Islam’s vision of life is an answer to the common question, “What is the meaning of life?” God says in the Quran, “And We did not create the heaven and the earth and that between them aimlessly. That is the assumption of those who disbelieve…” (38:27). He clearly states that he created mankind to worship Him (51:56). However, in addition to worship through prayer, for example, any lawful and moral activity done with the intention of pleasing God is also regarded as worship, such as studying, performing on-the-job tasks, nursing a child, exercising, building friendships, and so forth. Some aspects of worship are mentioned in the Quran, and are considered man’s responsibility toward God, such as:
- Acknowledgement and remembrance: “I am God [alone]! There is no god but Me, so serve Me and keep up prayer to remember Me by.” (20:14)
- Love: “Yet there are some people who adopt partners beside God whom they love just as they should love God. Those who believe are firmer in their love for God.” (2:165)
- Obedience: “O you who have believed! Obey God and His messenger…” (8:20)
- Reliance: “If God supports you, there is no one who will overcome you; while if He should forsake you, who is there to support you? On God should believers rely.” (3:160)
The purpose of our creation is to worship God, and our sincerity in doing so is tested throughout our lives. We are tested through blessings and comfort as well as trials and tribulations:
- “[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed – and He is the Mighty, the Forgiving.” (67:2)
- “Every soul will taste death. And We test you with evil and with good as trial; and to Us you will be returned.” (21:35)
- “And God created the heavens and earth in truth and so that every soul may be recompensed for what it has earned, and they will not be wronged.” (45:22)
- “Do the people think they will be left to say, ‘We believe’ and that they will not be tried?” (29:1)
- “You will surely be tested in your possessions and yourselves.” (3:186)
The challenges of life facilitate our growth in areas such as self-awareness, so we acknowledge our limitations and need for God; mental capacities, so we understand the nature of good and evil; social responsibility, since we witness how our deeds impact others; and self-actualization, or the attainment of our potential as a human being. However, this character development is a matter of personal choice and free will that is aided by:
- Belief: Say, “It is the truth from your Lord. So whoever wills, may believe, and whoever wills may disbelieve.” (18:29)
- Correct knowledge: Islam is not a religion of “blind faith.” The Quran stresses the importance for people to use their minds to reason and think logically, and strongly rejects mentalities driven by myths, ignorance, blind imitation of others, assumption, prejudice, and selfish desire.
- Good conduct and good deeds: “Verily, man is in loss except for those who believe and do good works…” (103)
In his struggle to do well, man should not slip into asceticism. “Seek the home of the Hereafter… yet don’t forget your share of this life.” (28:77) “Wear your fine apparel… eat and drink, but be not excessive” (7:31) Muhammad said, “The strong believer is better than the weak one.” So in Islam, success in the Hereafter and success in the world are not antithetical; they coincide and converge, support and strengthen each other.
God promises in the Quran that “Whoever does righteousness, whether male or female, while he is a believer – We will surely cause him to live a good life…” (16:97). This “good life” is a physical, social, material, mental and spiritual state of well-being. It is characterized by a healthy body built on wholesome food and drink, healthy relationships built on respect and kindness, a standard of living based on righteous earnings from valuable and wholesome activities, and, most importantly, a close relationship with the Creator and Sustainer of all.
Man’s responsibilities aren’t only to God and himself. Because he is a social creature, he has responsibilities towards others, which are outlined throughout the Quran. Some of the Lord’s commandments include: “Do not associate anything with Him, and show kindness towards both [your] parents. Do not kill your children because of poverty; We shall provide for you as well as for them. Do not indulge in shameful acts, be they open or secret. Do not kill any person whom God has forbidden, except through [due process of] law. He has instructed you in this so that you may reason. Do not approach an orphan’s wealth before he comes of age, except to improve it. Give full measure and weight in all fairness. We do not assign any person more than he can cope with. Whenever you speak, be just even though it concerns a close relative. Fulfill God’s covenant. Thus has He instructed you so that you may bear it in mind. This is My Straight Path, so follow it and do not follow [other] paths that will separate you from His path. Thus has He instructed you so that you may do your duty.” (6:151-153)
Man’s relationship with others is inclusive, not competitive. Prophet Muhammad said, “Do you know what the rights of a neighbor are? If a neighbor seeks your help, extend it to him. If a neighbor asks you for a loan, lend him. If your neighbor becomes poor, then help him financially and attend to his poverty if you can. If your neighbor becomes ill, then visit him. If your neighbor is happy on certain gain, then congratulate him. If your neighbor is suffering a calamity, then offer him condolences. If your neighbor dies, then attend his funeral. Do not raise your building over his building, so that he would have no sun exposure or wind passage. Do not bother your neighbor with the smell of your cooking, unless you intend to offer him some.” (Tabrani, hadith 101). Following Prophet Muhammad’s advice would ensure that every single person is cared for in a chain reaction.
In summary, man can be said to be God’s deputy on earth in the sense that he is responsible for applying His law for the smooth functioning of society in harmony with the smooth functioning of the universe as God created it. Jihad, which is the struggle for self-perfection (responsibility to self) and social perfection (responsibility to others), is an important aspect of this role. By applying God’s teachings in his life, man can be confident that he will pass the test of “life” with its duties to God, self and others, and that he will fulfill the purpose of his creation, which is the worship of his Creator and Lord. The following prayer, which comprises the opening verses of the Quran, reflect Islam’s vision of life:
“All praise is [due] to God, Lord of the worlds – the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful, Master of the Day of Judgment. It is You we worship and You we ask for help. Guide us to the straight path, the path of those on whom You have bestowed favor, not of those who have evoked [Your] anger, or of those who are astray.” (1:1-7)