CHAPTER 2: The Need to Worship God

Among the many debates arising from the study of religion, one of the most contentious issues is: What is the purpose of our lives?  And this question inevitably leads to others, such as: If there is a Creator, then what is our relationship to this Creator? And to what extent can we benefit from this relationship?

To answer these questions, let us examine four possible outcomes to our lives.  The first is that of a person who lives long in years, enjoying life to the full without having to work hard, who dies and is not resurrected (that is to say, no life after death).  The second is that of a person who lives an arduous, miserable life, who then dies and is also not resurrected. The third outcome is that of a person who dies after a lifetime of wrong-doing and is then resurrected to face accountability for those sins and is consigned eternally to unhappiness in the hereafter. The fourth outcome is that of a person who, after following the rules divinely ordained for this worldly life, dies and is resurrected to be rewarded by a powerful and merciful Creator with eternal happiness, peace and abundance.

Which outcome would anyone prefer?   Certainly we would choose the fourth scenario. And undoubtedly we would least prefer the third option!   As believers, we aspire to work honestly in this life and hope for a favorable judgment after death.  In fact, if one further examines the first situation, it is easily seen that such a life, however pleasant, would have little meaning, being so brief in comparison to eternity.  Similarly, the second option compounds meaninglessness with injustice, since the deceased will not be given any recompense for their suffering – life in this context is seen as favoring the rich and powerful over the poor and weak.

So the best scenario  acknowledges the presence of an all-encompassing Power that can guide, protect and reward us in the hereafter. Our physical existence may still be seen as short, but instead of a biological dead-end, it is actually a crucial and complex period in which our actions and deeds are carried out with free will on our part and we answer for those actions and decisions in the eternal life of the hereafter.  History has shown us that everyday human behavior here on Earth is complex enough to require disciplinary regulations to build up and maintain harmonious societies. Because of our nature, we humans developed social systems to regulate our lives. Over time, these various laws and regulations have changed and evolved to suit contemporary societies in every part of the world.

Unfortunately, laws made by humans usually discriminate in favor of the able and strong over the weak and powerless. In fact, there are always gaping holes of exclusion and bias in laws made by humans. We’ve all heard (and likely used) the common saying, “I’m sorry I made a mistake; I’m only human.” But once we accept the existence of a neutral, all-knowing and powerful Entity that recognizes the weaknesses and strengths of humankind, we can then use this acceptance to drive us toward creating a more just society.

In Islam, the practical and operational definition for the rules, laws and regulations made by God to inspire human actions and decisions is called “religion.”  Yet in this context we face the paradox that while many people will accept the necessity of secular rules to regulate and safeguard their lives, they may discredit the need for the “extra” rules of religion.

For Muslims and others who identify with a monotheistic (one deity) faith, our beliefs should make us more perceptive of God’s wisdom and should inspire us to follow divinely ordained commandments. Muslims acknowledge that God, as the universal source of unlimited knowledge and wisdom, has prescribed the religion of Islam, revealed through the Qur’an, as a timeless manual for human success.

It is said that the smallest part of truth taken alone can do more harm in the world than all truth combined can do good. This maxim is validated by the “denial or repression mechanism,” the psychological device that makes our thoughts and knowledge inconsistent with the truth.  Denial may temporarily alleviate emotional stress by putting a shield between our egoistic ambitions and the super-ego’s recognition of our moral obligations.  This mechanism may be one reason behind the apparent lack of interest in religion today; people avoid the moral obligations of self-discipline that would move them to willingly follow the rules ordained for us by God.

Individuals who deny the presence of God as the ultimate power that rewards and disciplines us must deal with profound and uncomfortable questions.   What is the purpose of their lives?   Who created the universe? Who establishes the standards of goodness?   Who can judge between the creatures?   In Islam, it is believed that those who deny the presence of God are also denying themselves God’s potential rewards and guidance; therefore, they are devaluing life itself. If we disbelieve in God, then we must assume that the joy we experience in being compassionate to others, in sharing love and forgiveness, in accepting mercy and sacrifice, in simply doing “the right thing” – has no higher goal and is therefore pointless. Being “good” while denying God is a tragic condition, one that places even the best-behaved atheist or non-believer on a much lower moral level than the less “perfect” individual who is always God-conscious.

Now we come to the classic circular question: If there is a God, then who created God? This is a supreme example of specious argument, revealing the denial mechanism at work. Humans are unique organisms comprised of particular substances and attributes, but are limited in perception by space and time. Accordingly, we describe ourselves and communicate with other creatures through a limited number of perceptive modes. The rules of our being, time, place and perception – in other words, our limitations – are all manifestations of a creative and unlimited God. As creatures of God, we cannot expect, therefore, to understand the essential self of our Creator. But our inability to understand the nature of divinity should not deter us from using our wonderfully designed minds to strive toward a greater and fuller knowledge of our Creator, whose presence can be felt through our natural instincts and inherent grasp of logic.  The importance of logic, which we use every day, must not be neglected when it comes to our relationship with God; after all, failing to solve a mathematics problem does not mean that no solution exists.

What more can we say about the source of all creation?   Is it nature, set up and installed billions of years ago to run like a perfect program? And Who gave nature such infinite self-sustaining intelligence?  Nature alone could not maintain this harmonious creation with such amazing consistency and repetition.  The synchronization and sophistication we encounter within and around us cannot be the result of random evolution. When you see a fine car, for example, you immediately realize that it has been conceived, designed and engineered by a person (or persons) to be what it is. When you visit a historic monument, you immediately recognize its distinctive architecture. When you see a beautiful portrait or drawing, you think admiringly of the artist who imagined and executed it. When you purchase an everyday article, you generally seek out the best quality for the price. And when you undertake a much larger project, such as building a house, you search for the architect-builder-contractor with the most trusted name in the housing industry.

Why then, do so many people – even some who claim to be believers – fail to be mindful of the designer, builder and artist of the human body; of birds, fish, insects and animals; of water, earth, air, planets and stars? The source of all these is obviously is rooted in an unidentifiable originating power or entity. But we have a name for it: believers attribute this limitless universal power to God.

Is the presence of God a self-forfeiting idea?  The answer is no.  And there are numerous excellent reasons to explain this.  In the Qur’an, God says:

Did you think that We had created you without any purpose and that you would never return to Us for accountability?

Therefore, exalted be Allah, the Real King; there is no God but Him, the Lord of the Honorable Throne.

(The Believers, Surah 23; 115-116)

Scriptures have been sent again and again to humanity with many variations on the same undeniable message:   “I am your Lord; worship me.”  No one can refute their validity without proof.

If our lives do have a value, a moral purpose, how can we be judged if there are no rules to live by?  Thus we have no choice but to examine the proposal presented to us by asking: Is the scripture real?  What does it contain?  What happens if we ignore it?

To say that God is the supreme Creator, yet has set out no rules for created beings to follow, is also unfair.  How could we have a God with no agenda?  How could we expect God to judge creation without any previous criteria?  If we are all automatically “saved” or forgiven, then what is the purpose of divine  judgment?  Is the bad ultimately equal to the good?  Our human limitations are such that we cannot resurrect ourselves, make ourselves accountable, or create an eternal life of happiness and forgiveness; therefore, we should perceive our relationship with God, the originator of eternal life, as the most significant aspect of our lives. We should welcome divine commands as a favor from God.  Why should we deprive ourselves of God’s mercy through disobedience? Instead, we should embrace the meaning of our lives in the context of our relationship with God. Humans have only themselves to blame if they dismiss God’s will and thereby forfeit the endless bounties offered through believing in it. Our response to the gift of creation should be to worship and submit to God, which gives meaning and sense to this worldly life, leading to the fourth outcome for us after physical death – the hope for a day of recompense for our labor. This knowledge alone should inspire us to strive toward making it possible.

Let us now consider life from a different angle. By examining our surroundings and the complex creation around and inside ourselves, it is difficult to deny the existence of a supreme originating power, which organizes the universe and created us. Moreover, this power continues to have complete authority over us, before and after death. If we understand this to be true, it is logical that an extreme sense of discomfort should trouble our hearts if we mistakenly ignore this Supreme Being. In Islam, God reminds us that we were not created on a whim or in vain. We are collectively God’s vicegerents, or stewards, with given responsibilities.

Ultimately, all humans will be summoned to the Day of Judgment, where transgressors will be accountable for their misdeeds and the righteous will be given recompense for their good actions. God equips us through divine wisdom with the power of making free choices to direct our lives; rewards are promised for those who mindfully strive to obey divine laws, while punishment awaits those who choose to ignore or disobey them.

Worshiping God means submitting our will to divine guidance. But it is important to note that there is a major difference between the willing submission of worship and the human concept of slavery under a greater power. A slave gains little in working without recompense as the possession of his or her owner, who is the only beneficiary. Worshiping God, however, means that one is compensated enormously by achieving success both in this life and the hereafter; we benefit by submitting and obeying.

Humans naturally prefer to live in social groups, communities and whole societies. We like to organize and regulate our lives through mutually agreeable common laws.  In ideal circumstances, we interact by choosing representatives among us and seek appropriate leaders to help safeguard and maintain our relationships.  Therefore, the concept of organized society is basic to our existence.  Given this human preference for governance and organization, it is not difficult to understand our collective need for a just and wise authority with the supreme power to reward the good and punish the evil.  It is logical that once we acknowledge the existence of a just and merciful Lord, we also feel the need for divine guidance. By contrast, consider what an absolute loss it is for any individual who accepts a political or social system to organize their practical everyday life on earth, but who denies the need for God’s spiritual guidance.

One  should  not  be  deceived  into  a  state  of  unbelief  because  we  cannot  see  this Supreme power directly.  If you cannot see something right in front of you, as happens frequently in our daily life, it does not mean that it does not exist. Remember the concept of logic!  Imagine (hypothetically) having told someone 100 years ago that an instrument called the “computer” would be invented which can store vast quantities of information and that it would be used to send billions of messages instantly across continents every hour of the day and night? What kind of response might one expect?  To someone living at the turn of the 20th century, such a device would seem impossible to grasp. Similarly, our intellectual investigation of God’s being or selfhood is ineffective because it is so far beyond the scope of our intellect, imagination and five physical senses. Nevertheless, we are certainly capable of feeling the impact of God’s presence.

Let us also use our minds to explore another example. In dealing with any serious illness, human logic compels us to seek out the best possible physician, one specialized in treating that disease or condition.  Our first concern would be to validate his or her professional expertise; thus one would not ask about a given doctor’s appearance, age, or other attributes that are irrelevant to the core issues of skill and competence.

There are many other examples of logical modes of perception around us.  Energy and electricity are perceived through their effect, not their shape, weight or dimensions. Sound cannot be seen but its waves are perceived by the ear.  The effect of tiny unseen microorganisms around us is enormous and we do not need special equipment to recognize their presence. Similarly, we do not require our physical senses to perceive the presence of a truth before acknowledging its validity.  In the same way, we are simply not equipped to empirically or measurably understand the nature of God, but God’s presence is still felt.

One may also ask why it is important to see God. Even if that were possible, many would still insist on seeing God in action as proof, demanding: “Show us how you make so-and-so … How do you create, inflict death, punish and forgive?  Show us paradise and let us live in it for a year to prove it is real … No, make that a hundred years! Show us this … show us that…” Interrogating God this way defeats logic, since it allows humans, the creatures, to take the driver’s seat and command their Creator to show them the content and result of the yet-unwritten test of life. Such an approach sets up an oxymoron, a contradiction of terms, which is fundamentally illogical since God’s mercy has already provided abundant evidence of divine presence and power. The concept should be clear: We were created to be tested by God, not to test God.

Here is yet another example to consider. An individual informs you, “I am a messenger from the landlord of this parcel of land.  If you do such-and-such a task, my landlord will then reward you.”  He tells you that the landlord plans to come at the end of the day to judge your work.

Before accepting such an offer, you would obviously want assurance that the landlord could keep his promise to pay you. Even when you do not need to see him in person, it is still your task to verify the messenger’s credentials to ensure your rights are respected and upheld. Similarly, the credentials of the messengers or prophets of God, as unseen landlord of the universe, are well presented in revelations. When was the last time you asked to see the president or CEO of a corporation as a condition of you accepting an offer of employment? Without meeting the CEO in person (even if the opportunity should arise) you would base your decision on the company’s credentials and performance, not on the appearance of its leadership.

Therefore, it is our responsibility to look around us and seriously examine evidence throughout creation of the supremacy and absolute power of God as criteria for belief, rather than inquire into the unknowable details of God’s nature.  The authenticity of God’s “offer” – the Qur’an, the final divine revelation and holy book of Muslims – is well illustrated within its message. We should never forget that our human mental capacities reach as far as, and are limited by, the role for which we were created.

Are we asked to describe God’s nature? Or, are we asked to draw a mental picture of God? If these questions were part of the faith, then it would seem logical to seek some clues from God to help us answer them. But that is not the case; on the contrary, God has warned us against pursuing such ideas. One can then conclude that questions about the personal nature or selfhood of God are not part of faith.

This raises the intriguing idea that since we are given the freedom to choose between right and wrong actions, our minds can also ask right or wrong questions. God’s mercy is such that we are not held accountable for all the thoughts that cross our minds. Yet it seems only fair to accept that we should be accountable for pursuing a relentless search for answers to unanswerable questions after being reminded by God not to waste our mental capacity in this way. It is part of our response to divine wisdom that we should not only strive make the right choices in life, but strive equally to avoid asking the wrong questions. This is by no means a restriction on using our minds to their fullest capacities; quite the opposite. Using our minds with wisdom leads us to avoid fruitless approaches.

Some may still argue that since God desires our worship and obedience, we should have the right to ask any questions.

The answer to this approach is simple.  God, being independently self-sustaining, does not benefit from the worship of any creature. We are divinely advised to make the right choices and are warned against the wrong ones.  God does not offer different individual contracts based on what we want because there is only one right path. In the Islamic tradition, we are symbolically reminded that if Earth and all the creatures on it value a mosquito’s wing in the sight of God, an unbeliever will not taste a sip of its water as a retribution. If we insist on knowing the being of God before agreeing to worship and believe, that amounts to refusing to sign God’s offered contract.

It is just as serious a mistake to demand empirical proof of God’s existence as a condition to examining the revelations given to the divine messengers. Thus, successful individuals are those who examine religion fairly and seriously, based on the clear signs of God’s power all around them, and thereby direct the actions and decisions of their lives in accordance with God’s commands.

A common mistake is to ask questions such as: Why will some human beings dwell in hellfire after death? If God loves us all, how can one reconcile divine justice with predestination?  Why must God test us through religion?

Of course God does not want to subject anyone to the horrors of hellfire. As we can read in the Qur’an:

Do the people think that they will be left alone on saying “We believe,” and that they will not be tested?  We did test those who have gone before them.  Allah has to see (for the purpose of reward and punishment) who are the truthful and who the liars are.

(The Spider; Surah 29, 2-3)

The eternal knowledge of God, compared to our limited human abilities, forms the basis of the Qur’anic response to these questions. Just as an experienced professor of computer science can gauge a student’s limitations in understanding the most sophisticated programming, God’s eternal knowledge anticipates our actions. Similarly, a treating physician faced with a noncompliant patient understands and anticipates far better than the patient what will happen if he or she refuses to take prescribed medicine.

Think also of the following: God’s mercy allows us through free will to make our own choices in this life, so that in the hereafter we will be accountable as our own witnesses.   If instead we were judged on potential actions we are supposed to do in this life, we would certainly ask God about the injustice of being put to trial for uncommitted actions. But God judges us only after actions are committed, so the concept of pre-determined sin is an invalid excuse. Believers and non-believers alike are both tested by hardship and abundance in this life, but we are given full freedom to make our own choices.   We should not preoccupy ourselves with theoretical ideas of pre-determination, but rather focus on the concept of discerning each right action at the time of the test. Abstract preoccupation is reminiscent of the student who decides not to study because he or she is convinced of failure, while another student simply studies to achieve a desirable result.

Therefore, God’s wisdom does not reveal to us any knowledge of our anticipated actions in this life, allowing us to freely direct our lives through divine guidance, or by what we think is right.  The inherent resources we have been given are there simply to guide us. In fact, the purpose of religion is to help alleviate suffering, both in this life and the next. It is lazy, even arrogant, to refuse religious material based on personal prejudice or wrong assumptions.

Throughout the Qur’an God has made it clear that we shall be tested by various trials, just as happened historically to all Prophets, Messengers, Saints and devout people. Faith is not merely the profession of lip-service; it has practical application in all kinds of challenging circumstances, such as interpersonal relationships, the death of loved ones, poverty, pain, illness, sorrow and self-sacrifice. Such trials may be necessary, not because they are in any way enjoyable, but because they purify us as fire purifies or refines precious metals. Faith is a trust that requires hard work, patience and endurance.   People who declare their faith are often tested by rejection from others, but God promises to reward those who pass the test of worldly hardships:

As for those who strive in Our cause, We will surely guide them to Our ways; rest assured that Allah is with the righteous.

(The Spider, Surah 29; 69)

Every soul is bound to have the taste of death. We are putting all of you to a test by passing you through bad and good conditions, and finally you shall return to Us.

(The Prophets, Surah 21; 35)

Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam (peace and prayer upon him – PBUH) was once asked: Who receives the hardest trials and adversities in this life? He answered that Prophets received the hardest worldly tests and after them, devout people, according to their merits and spiritual strength.  If their religion is strong, their trials increase in intensity, but if their religion is weak, the trials are less according to their capacity.  Believers are purified of their sins by such trials and attain a higher rank in paradise. The Prophet of Islam (PBUH) also taught his followers that even prior to the revelation of Islam good people were tested and “they appreciated their trials just as you appreciate abundance.”

He explained that even these pre-Islamic people understood that God purifies believers through difficulties and elevates their status in the hereafter.  The highest consolation that a righteous person can receive under extraordinary duress and provocation is the assurance that God is with them.  Adversities in this life are necessary as a means to better purify us of our sins and spiritually strengthen us. There is no understanding of light without darkness and no understanding of good without evil.  Islam defines true success in this life as surrendering our will to God’s wisdom and not anticipating an immediate reward.

Someone may still wonder:  Why do we suffer in this life?  Why does a loving God make us suffer? The answer is not difficult: any reward in this life is minute as compared to rewards in the hereafter.  The trial of faith is like a group of students working hard on an assignment that is guaranteed to bring them a big reward; they are excited and motivated about their anticipated results. In life, we keep digging through the burdens we encounter with the promise that one day our bitter tears will become sweet. The Prophet of Islam (PBUH) taught that on the Day of Judgment, those who have suffered most in this life will be given a momentary taste of Paradise and will then be asked if they had ever suffered previously. They will answer: “I never suffered at all.”

Similarly, a person who transgressed and enjoyed undeserved extravagance and luxury in this life will be dipped into hellfire for a moment and then be asked if they ever enjoyed life previously. The answer will be “I never enjoyed a moment.”

This concept should not be construed as justifying a state of continuous suffering for believers in this life. It merely confirms that the reward may be delayed or postponed. Those who strive to spread the faith may fail to convince people in spite of their dedication; they may be killed in the cause. But when people unite in goodness, God guarantees success for them; however, success at the collective or individual level may be given either in this life or in the hereafter.  

In fact, God’s love for creation can be seen in many ways. To be born without sin is one sign of that love; to be given religion to guide us is another.  Believers feel that tests in this life are also signs of love. People who are certain of life after death understand that the scope of our present life is limited. They progress in expectation of the hereafter life and are not deceived by false temptations; they have faith in things beyond what can be sensed or conceived. Conversely, unbelievers cannot trust those things. The unbeliever’s concept of life is always turning and shifting, based on his or her perception of events happening around them. Unbelievers become victims of the natural instabilities of human life, becoming self-absorbed and continually under the tension of trying to make unguided decisions. As a result they have difficulty maintaining healthy relationships in the face of uncontrollable external forces that inevitably intrude upon them.

Humankind aspires to perfection. For unbelievers, nothing can satisfy their needs, because they acknowledge no absolute power to compensate or penalize them. Unbelievers follow social patterns which to them are functional and serviceable; that is, patterns that lead to quick rewards. Not surprisingly, an unbeliever’s life is a series of trials and errors. Successes are merely artificial victories with very limited meaning, a fact that they unfortunately do not appreciate. The life of a believer, on the other hand, is full of mindful cultivation and the anticipation of just rewards, either in this world or the hereafter

Believers wait eagerly, yet also with patience and caution for the end of this life while unbelievers sadly cannot rise above their self-pride enough to surrender their will to God. Believers feel and trust in the love of the One who knows them better than they know themselves, while unbelievers in their self-centeredness lose the joy of belonging to a harmonious universe. Unbelievers are limited in both the sense of gratification and their capacity to endure adversity because they lack trust in God’s infinite justice on the day of resurrection.  Their hopes and dreams are limited to the brief scope of this life and thus they cannot maintain a state of contentment as brilliantly explained by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) when he said:  “In the case of believers there is good for them in everything, and this benefit is exclusively for them alone.  If they experience something pleasant, they are grateful to God and that is good for them; and if they go through adversity, they are patient and submissive to God and that too is good for them.” Is this not a sign of love?

It is also attributed to the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) that for any trouble, illness, worry, grief, hurt or sorrow which afflicts a Muslim, even the prick of a thorn, God removes in return some of his or her sins. Is this not also a sign of love?  Additionally, Muhammad (PBUH) taught that those whom God favors are tested by some hardship. Therefore, only hard work and faithful endurance achieve high rewards.  Those who accept and pass through the tribulations of life receive divine acceptance and those who evade God’s trials receive wrath. As is recorded in the Qur’an:

Lo!  We surely do help Our messengers, and those who believe, in the life of the world and on the day when the witnesses arise.

(The Believer, or He Who Forgives, Surah 40; 51)

For those who continue to transgress in this life without repentance, they are only postponing a dreadful time:

If Allah were to take mankind to task for their wrongdoing, He would not leave on it a living creature, but He reprieves them to an appointed term, and when their term comes they cannot put (it) off an hour nor (yet) advance (it).

(The Bee, Surah 16; 61)

And if the Truth had followed their desires, surely the heavens and the earth and whoever is therein would have been corrupted. Nay, We have brought them their Reminder, but from their Reminder they now turn away.

(The Believers, Surah 23; 71)

In fairness, God judges among humankind.  When some people transgress against others, the transgressors must be punished. We must remember how many times God has sent Messengers to lead us to the right way and warn us against taking the wrong path.  Is this not a sign of His love?

The Prophet of Islam (PBUH) told us that God judges us by our deeds in determining whether we are rewarded or not. Those who receive rewards will thank their Lord and those who are passed over have only themselves to blame.  He also said that all will enter paradise except those who refuse it.  When Prophet Muhammad’s puzzled followers asked who would even think of declining paradise, he answered: “The one who obeys Me (meaning God)  enters paradise and the one who disobeys Me refuses paradise.”  Is this not a sign of His love?

God’s offer to us is like a road map, on which we are given directions to drive straight, smoothly and safely along the highway of life in order to reach a certain destination, the hereafter. This road map, or guidance, is a sign of God’s love to help us avoid wrong turns and false detours. Moreover, without the appropriate manual (our religion) we will encounter difficult barriers and numerous distractions along the way. Some travelers will readily accept God’s help. Others may try alternate routes that seem easier, or exit the road because they either don’t believe it is the right way, or because deceiving off-ramp signs lure them in a different direction.  

Some will refuse the offer of God’s highway and roadmap altogether, or drive in the wrong direction because they think they know better.  So we must all ask ourselves; which route do I want to take?

The Prophet of Islam (PBUH) said that his example and the example of life in general “is like a person on a journey who sat underneath the shade of a tree for a short while to rest and then continued his trip” – an image that aptly illustrates the shortness of this earthly life and the importance of ensuring that we are indeed on the right road when it comes time to make our exit from mortal life.

Since birth and death are certainties, it is each individual’s responsibility to determine if they wish to take the trip according to God’s directions and to reciprocate the divine love conferred upon them.

The love of God is also well manifested in the messages and Prophets sent to guide us; if we refuse to reciprocate with obedience, we will falter badly and lose our way, making us transgressors against other creatures of God.  Because God loves all creation, those who transgress against any part of it are held responsible, just as in human society, if you go into a store and steal, you are punished. We all receive social, political and physical protection through the laws and constitution of our country. The same laws and constitution also serve to deter and punish criminals who act against them. Similarly, God metes out retribution for those who transgress, in order to show protective love for all of creation.

In short, God’s order mirrors that of the practical life in which we all want to live; this shows an unmatched and limitless love for creation. The Prophet (PBUH) said; “God accepts repentance of His creatures as long as they repent before they die.”  He also reminded us that God has given all creatures a 100th  part of the mercy by which we forgive, pardon, forget and show compassion and love, not only to our own kind but to non-humans as well. The remaining 99/100ths of divine mercy are reserved for the Day of Judgment, to be conferred on us. Is this not a sign of God’s love?

To illustrate the magnitude of God’s love for creation, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) explained to his followers that for one who repents, the love of God feels like the experience of a person who loses his camel in the desert. In despair, and expecting to die alone of thirst and exposure, the stranded rider falls asleep. But when he wakes later, the camel has returned and is standing in front of him.

Human beings tend to favor their own needs and interests at the expense of others, giving rise to the desire that God’s mercy should include transgressors as well and spare them having to account for their wrong-doings. But this fallacious argument allows human selfishness to expand in a vacuum of corruption because there is no deterrent of retribution. Our tendency to corrupt and dominate others must be controlled by divine justice. Those of us who err in our weakness, however, are still forgiven through God’s mercy as long as our intentions and repentance are genuine.  Is this not a sign of love?

Even in the case of those who have committed grave crimes, the mercy of God is not only available to blot out those crimes, but also enters to transform evil into good, as long as there is a genuine repentance. The following verse comes from a passage in the Qur’an that warns of punishment in store for wrongdoers, but not all wrongdoers:

. . . except the one who repents, becomes a true believer, and starts doing good deeds, for then Allah will change his evil deeds into good, and Allah is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.

(The Criterion, Surah 25; 70)

Scholars have interpreted this to mean that the change from evil to good implies the transformation of an unbeliever into a pious person and an obstinate individual into an obedient servant of God, whose mercy opens the door of goodness in front of them. The verse cited above also refers to the generosity of our Lord in replacing every sin of the repentant with a virtue, as a reward for sincere intentions and genuine acts of atonement.  Can there be any greater love than this?  Obviously nothing within human capacity or experience can match or exceed God’s love for us. Such incomparable love is proof that God, as the Supreme Being, is not answerable to anything or anyone in creation.

Why then does God ordain tests of life for humankind? Those who have accepted the presence and supremacy of God can find the answer to this question by studying the Qur’an, the final divine revelation to humanity. God tells us that the offer to choose and accept the freedom of Islam was made first to all the beings of the heavens and earth before coming to us.  All the other entities in creation declined God’s challenge to accept the heavy responsibility of making independent choices; they preferred not to have the freedom to choose. Instead, they wanted to eternally worship the Creator in their own particular ways, which are beyond human understanding. When the offer came to us, we humans accepted the responsibility to be free to choose. But God reminds us that although we indeed accepted that offer, we have often forgotten that we gave our word to faithfully carry out this trust. On the Day of Judgment we will be reminded once again that we accepted a binding contract.  A successful person is the one who freely chooses in this life to accept humanity’s spiritual responsibility and follow the guidance of God.  We willingly surrender our freedom to choose otherwise and in doing so, we become in harmony with nature through obedience to God. Such obedience assures us of God’s continual support, mercy, forgiveness and reward.

If God gave us the freedom to choose, then why are we born with sin? And why do we have to carry the sins of our ancestors?

In Islam, we are actually born in a state of innocence, not inherent sin, but we are given the propensity to do good or bad. Selfish motives, influenced by Satan, lure us to transgress in our relationships. However, the goodness presented to us through studying the divine scriptures provides the antidote to correct our actions.  Thus our lives are lived balancing between both motives.

What makes us unique in creation is that God permits us to voluntarily choose our actions and religion gives us the critical awareness to differentiate between right and wrong. God has made it clear that all sane and adult individuals are personally responsible for their choices.

The question then is; how can we develop a sense of comfort in the religion we adopt?  I suggest that one must follow scripture based on its own merits without succumbing to the biases of peer pressure, social differences, or disinterest in genuine study and learning. Sadly, most of us spend our lives focused on achieving material success and forget the need to focus also on life choices that have a direct bearing on our eternal destiny. To worship God is to know, revere, and love our Creator and act upon the divine laws ordained for every aspect of our lives. Thus it is absolutely essential in Islam that we consider our daily choices seriously, for they make the ultimate difference in the outcome of this life.

Can we be righteous without believing in God or following divine guidance?  The answer is clearly no. When compared to divine statutes, laws made by humans are all but meaningless. To execute our mission in this life without God’s guidance is to act like a flawed scientist who tries to prove the results of an experiment without following appropriate laboratory procedures. Without divine guidance how can we define righteousness?  What is meant by doing “right” in one person’s mind may be the exact opposite of what another believes is “right.” Second, true righteousness requires sacrifice and hard work.  

Without a relationship to God and the hope of recompense in the hereafter, it is much harder to meet even minimum standards of righteousness. We are reminded in the Qur’an:

And if the Truth had followed their desires, surely the heavens and the earth and whoever is therein had been corrupted.  Nay, We have brought them their Reminder, but from their Reminder they now turn away.

(The Believers, Surah 23; 71)

God describes true righteousness in the Qur’an as follows:

It is not righteousness that you merely turn your faces to the East and the West; but righteousness is he (or she) who believes in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Scripture and the Prophets; and gives wealth, for love of Him, to kinsfolk and to orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask, and to set slaves free; and establishes prayer and pays the poor due (charity). And those who keep their treaty when they make one, and the patient in tribulation and adversity and time of stress.  Such are they who are sincere.  And such are the God-fearing.

(The Cow, Surah 2; 177)

One can also understand the meaning of righteousness from other passages in the Qur’an:

O believers!  Obey Allah, obey the messenger and those charged with authority among you.  Should you have a dispute in anything, refer it to Allah and the messenger, if you truly believe in Allah and the Last Day.  This course of action will be better and more suitable.

      (The Women, Surah 4; 59)

Rather seek, by means of what Allah has given you, to attain the abode of the hereafter, while not neglecting your share in this world. Be good to others as Allah has been good to you, and do not seek mischief in the land, for Allah does not love the mischief-makers.

(The Narration, Surah 28; 77)

Muslims believe that God has sent revelations to us through Prophets and Messengers in the unique form of a contract or covenant and that the complete and final form of that divine contract is the religion of Islam. Thus for Muslims, one succeeds in this life by following God’s revelation through the Qur’an, for only in Islam may one find all the necessary conditions for success. It is logical to negotiate contracts or employment offers that we present to, or receive from, fellow human beings. The Creator, however, is most knowledgeable, knows what is right and what is wrong for us and, above all, does not need our services: therefore, God’s offer or contract is not open to negotiation.

What is the purpose of our lives?

The purpose of life now begins to emerge.   It is about a divine assignment we have been given to perform.  Through our personal striving and struggling, we are meant to grow in righteousness and in so doing, to make the world a better place. This life is about sowing the seeds of goodness. The joy of doing this is akin to the joy felt by a farmer who sows a crop with the certainty that both the land and the seeds are of the best quality possible. In this context, the hard work is enjoyable because the farmer feels assured of good results. Similarly, this life is about a short stay in preparation for another, more important journey to the hereafter. Our choices in this life will ultimately lead to which exit we take when we leave our physical bodies.

So the argument that we should enjoy life to the limit because we are destined to “die,” and that’s all there is, should be replaced by a much better one that encourages us to prepare for the great potential that will come after mortal death. That is why God, our All-Knowing and Self-Sufficient Creator, requires worship and submission. This is the purpose of our being here; to enjoy life while taking pleasure in seeking full obedience to God’s guidance. In doing so, we live fully in anticipation of the unlimited happiness that awaits after we finish the assignment of this earthly life.

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Al-Masjid Al-Nabawi often called the Prophet's Mosque, is a mosque originally built by the Islamic prophet Muhammad, situated in the city of Medina. It is the second holiest site in Islam (the first being the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca). It was the second mosque built in history. It also now incorporates the site of the final resting place of Muhammad and early Muslim leaders Abu Bakr and Umar.

The site was originally adjacent to Muhammad's house; he settled there after his Hijra (emigration) to Medina in 622. He shared in the heavy work of construction.

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