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Chapter 7: Goal and Purpose of Life

In the contemporary society, people are driven by various goals and objectives. All of us pursue wealth as one of our main objectives in life. Wealth allows us to obtain the comforts and luxuries we need – and sometimes simply want. Through wealth, we can obtain what we think is important for our well-being and also what society expects us to have as a measure of being prosperous, for example owning a house or a car. Wealth also gives us respect in the society and generally, wealthy people are considered as being important. It is also useful during an illness and injury so we can obtain the best possible health care. Wealth gives us a sense of power and control over the physical world and gives us self-confidence.

To obtain wealth, people pursue different paths. Some go into learning skills and craftsmanship; others pursue education and degrees to work in knowledge-based jobs while others go into business, retail and trade to make a living.

Besides money, we also want to find the right life partner to have a family with. Once we have children of our own, our lives are devoted to their upbringing and well-being. In this way, the circle of life continues with most of us pursuing education, jobs, family and travel for leisure, etc. as our main objectives and goals in life.

Some people are driven by academic pursuits, trying to make a discovery or develop a new device, or write a paper for publishing in a leading journal. Those who are materially successful in life also want fame and recognition and so some go on to become politicians and hold public office. Those with higher goals want to help others and make a difference in society and even leave behind a legacy. In pursuit of our objectives and goals there is little that religion and spirituality adds to this outlook on life and many, including those who may regard themselves as religious, often do not see how religion helps them in these objectives of life.

Our degrees of success in obtaining these goals and objectives is variable. Some people become very successful while others are not as much. In the end, death knocks at our door - often unexpectedly and usually to our displeasure - and we are forced to leave all what we thought was important to us, and for which we spent our entire life, money and resources. That is all folks, this is the story of life and so let us try to ‘enjoy’ it while it lasts, because soon the appointed term will be over.

Another way of looking at the question of our goal and purpose in life is to see it in the context of the teachings of monotheism. In this book I have tried to narrate a view point in which God is the Originator and Creator of everything and to Whom everythying retuns to as well. I have also described how there are two phases of life, one in this world and the other in the hereafter. If God created the universe and settled us on this earth, then there should be a reason behind it. What is the goal of my existence? What am I doing here? Does He want some of us to enjoy the various comforts of this life, and others to suffer in poverty, war and illness? Is that really it?

Role of Mankind

Everything that exists is dependent upon God for coming into existence and for maintaining its existence. Any attribute that a being possesses is not of its own, but it is a reflection of God’s attributes. For example, a flower is attractive to the eye simply because it is reflecting God’s beauty; a mountain is majestic in its stature as it is reflecting God’s majesty; the love of a mother towards her children is a reflection of God’s unconditional love and affection towards His creation.

Amongst the God’s creation the only being who has the potential to reflect God’s attributes to the fullest is mankind. We can reflect life, beauty, goodness, wisdom, knowledge, power, compassion, justice, revenge, forgiveness, vision, hearing and love which are all God’s attributes. According to the Qur’an, mankind is a vicegerent of God on the earth:

وَإِذْ قَالَ رَبُّكَ لِلْمَلَائِكَةِ إِنِّي جَاعِلٌ فِي الْأَرْضِ خَلِيفَةً

And when your Lord said to the angels, I am going to place in the earth a representative… (Qur’an, Surah al-Baqarah, 2:30).

Mankind is superior to both animals and angels. Animals have desires, but they do not have intellect and so, they are forced to act according to their desires. When a goat sees grass or fodder, it will start eating it without checking if the grass is from its owner’s yard or from the neighbor’s yard. Angels are endowed with only intellect and do not have temptations or desires, therefore they do not have to make moral choices.

However, mankind has both the power of desire and intellect. We get hungry just like a goat, but we do not just eat anything that comes our way; we get angry when our rights are violated, but we can not just attack the aggressor like animals do to chase them away. Our desires and anger are controlled by the faculty of the intellect… Maybe not all of the time but most of the time!

According to the Qur’an, mankind enjoys a special rank in relation to other creations:

وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِي آدَمَ وَحَمَلْنَاهُمْ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ وَرَزَقْنَاهُمْ مِنَ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَفَضَّلْنَاهُمْ عَلَىٰ كَثِيرٍ مِمَّنْ خَلَقْنَا تَفْضِيلًا

Assuredly We have honored the children of Adam (with many distinctions): We have sustained their traveling on the land and the sea, and provided for them (their sustenance) out of pure, wholesome things, and preferred them above many of those whom We have created with particular preferment. (Qur’an, Surah al-Isra’, 17:70).

The interplay of desires and intellect gives rise to conflicting choices allowing us to exercise our free will. When given various options, we can choose to act or not to act in a certain way resulting in different outcomes. We have rational decision making capacity and the ability to differentiate between what is good for us and what is bad, what is beneficial and what is harmful:

إِنَّا عَرَضْنَا الْأَمَانَةَ عَلَى السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَالْجِبَالِ فَأَبَيْنَ أَنْ يَحْمِلْنَهَا وَأَشْفَقْنَ مِنْهَا وَحَمَلَهَا الْإِنْسَانُ ۖ إِنَّهُ كَانَ ظَلُومًا جَهُولًا

We offered the Trust to the heavens, and the earth, and the mountains, but they shrank from bearing it, and were afraid of it (fearful of being unable to fulfill its responsibility), but the human being has undertaken it. He is indeed prone to doing great wrong and misjudging, and acting out of sheer ignorance. (Qur’an, Surah al-Ahzab, 33:72).

Based on the above discussion, mankind has a special role as the vicegerents of God, enjoys a special honor, and is the carrier of God’s Trust (which has been explained as free will or viceregency).

Life as a Test

The next question is that what then is our role or duty in this life? What are we supposed to do with this role of vicegerency and trust from God?

The Qur’an further explains that God created life and death to see which one of us is better than the other in terms of one’s actions:

الَّذِي خَلَقَ الْمَوْتَ وَالْحَيَاةَ لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ أَيُّكُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًا ۚ وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْغَفُورُ

He (God) who has created death and life, so that He may try you (and demonstrate to yourselves) which of you is better in deeds; and He is the All-Glorious with irresistible might (Whose will none can frustrate), the All-Forgiving. (Qur’an, Surah al-Mulk, 67:2).

According to this verse during our entire lives, we are constantly undergoing trials and tests to see how we act in the context of our lives on earth with its various challenges and temptations. Whether a person is poor or wealthy, sick or well, hungry or fed, all are going through a test:

إِنَّا جَعَلْنَا مَا عَلَى الْأَرْضِ زِينَةً لَهَا لِنَبْلُوَهُمْ أَيُّهُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًا

We have surely made whatever is on the earth as an ornament for it (appealing to humanity), so that We may try them (by demonstrating it to themselves) which of them is best in conduct. (Qur’an, Surah al-Kahf, 18:7).

The embellishment of this earthly life is further clarified in another verse as follows:

الْمَالُ وَالْبَنُونَ زِينَةُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا ۖ وَالْبَاقِيَاتُ الصَّالِحَاتُ خَيْرٌ عِنْدَ رَبِّكَ ثَوَابًا وَخَيْرٌ أَمَلًا

Wealth and children are an adornment of the present, worldly life, but the good, righteous deeds (based on faith and) which endure are better in the sight of your Lord in bringing reward and better to aspire for. (Qur’an, Surah al-Kahf, 18:46).

Just to clarify that having wealth and children is not bad or evil in itself, but what is being cautioned about is not to be too involved in chasing after them and accumulating wealth or feeling too proud of one’s family ties or lineage, or compromising morals for money or family relations. Good moral actions done with pure intentions have more value than any amount of wealth or number of children. Thus, life and various aspects of it are ways of testing us to see how we act in a particular situation.

Spiritual Growth

1. Moral Self-Restraint (al-Taqwa)

Mankind has a special role as vicegerents of God on the earth and we are constantly being tested during this life. When students take a test, there is a score or a result to find out how the participants did in those tests. What is the measure by which we know how we did in the test of life? The Qur’anic measure of success is a quality called taqwa or God-Consciousness.

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُمْ مِنْ ذَكَرٍ وَأُنْثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِنْدَ اللّٰهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللّٰهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ

O humankind! Surely We have created you from a single (pair of) male and female, and made you into tribes and families so that you may know one another (and so build mutuality and co-operative relationships, not so that you may take pride in your differences of race or social rank, and breed enmities). Surely the noblest, most honorable of you in God’s sight is the one best in piety, righteousness, and reverence for God. Surely God is All-Knowing, All-Aware. (Qur’an, Surah al-Hujurat, 49:13).

One of the most important and often repeated messages of the Qur’an is for believers to acquire the quality of God consciousness. The word taqwa is derived from the Arabic root word “waqaya” which means to safeguard and protect, which in the context of monotheism is defined as self-restraint and self-control from that which is harmful to the soul as instructed by God.

The immediate goal and outcome of religious practices like prayers and fasting is to acquire the quality of taqwa. It can be looked at as self-control or mastery of the self for the sake of God. Taqwa is to refrain from something which is poisonous and harmful for the soul. To clarify this point let me give an example which most people can relate to. Let us say that there is a person who is self-conscious about his health, but he also has a bad habit of smoking. Once he learns more about the hazards of smoking and attends multiple sessions about its harmful effects, he decides to stop smoking. This ability to say no to something which is harmful for us (in this case for health reasons) is called taqwa.

In the context of religion, various things have been described as harmful for the soul, which in common terminology are called sins such as lying, cheating, backbiting, illegitimate sexual relations, etc. This ability to refrain from activities which are harmful for the soul is taqwa.

None of us consider lying a good trait but many of us lie in our daily lives for various reasons and thus, the ability of not lying and speaking the truth out of fear of breaking God’s laws and speaking the truth even if doing so is against our self-interest is taqwa.

Similarly, restraining oneself from illegitimate sexual encounters out of fear of transgressing the laws of God is also an example of taqwa. Our loyalty should be to our spouse, and even more importantly with God, as a wife may not be present everywhere, but God is always present. This feeling of God consciousness which prevents us from crossing the limits is taqwa.

وَهُوَ مَعَكُمْ أَيْنَ مَا كُنْتُمْ ۚ وَاللّٰهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌ

And He is with you wherever you may be. And God sees well all that you do. (Qur’an, Surah al-Hadid, 57:4).

The religious practices like prayers and fasting help us to cultivate this ability in the soul. If someone is engaging in the religious practices but is not gaining the quality of God-consciousness, then one’s practice of religion is futile and is not beneficial to the soul. Only those religious practices are relevant which simultaneously raise our God-consciousness and improve our self-control. Having taqwa is a sign of spiritual maturity; and this quality is the best provision for the life in the hereafter:

وَتَزَوَّدُوا فَإِنَّ خَيْرَ الزَّادِ التَّقْوَىٰ ۚ وَاتَّقُونِ يَا أُولِي الْأَلْبَابِ

Take your provisions. In truth, the best provision is righteousness and piety (taqwa), so fear Me (be concisous of Me), O people of discernment! (Qur’an, Surah al-Baqarah, 2:197).

Many routine struggles of life actually help in our spiritual growth. When I am single its all about me and what I want. When I get married, now its about us and what we want and when we have children its about them and what they want. Adjusting our personal habits and lifestyle to accommodate our spouses and then struggling 24/7 to raise children is a great way of moving away from egocentric nature to self-less devotion to others. Giving up personal habits for our spouse or controlling anger while raising kids is a great exercise to cultivate Taqwa.

A person who cultivates the quality of taqwa leads an upright and honest life. They are well grounded in their ideals and are not easily influenced by the various temptations of the world. Since such a person has control over the desires and is not easily influenced by outside factors, they can focus on their goals and work towards fulfilling them and avoiding the distractions, and is likely to be a high achiever in the professional pursuits as well.

Such a person is very easy to get along with as we expect honesty and trust from them too. Such a person is self-conscious of their responsibilities and does not betray others. They would be moderate in their affairs and would not chase what others covet.

Such a person very easily earns self-respect amongst their peers and is well liked.

Taqwa is also important in avoiding conflicts in personal and family relationships and can help in their quick resolutions where as a lack of taqwa gives rise to inter-personal and societal conflicts.

Those who can safe guard themselves from the temptations of this world and enjoy God consciousness rightfully deserve eternal bliss and God’s pleasure in the real life to come:

زُيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ حُبُّ الشَّهَوَاتِ مِنَ النِّسَاءِ وَالْبَنِينَ وَالْقَنَاطِيرِ الْمُقَنْطَرَةِ مِنَ الذَّهَبِ وَالْفِضَّةِ وَالْخَيْلِ الْمُسَوَّمَةِ وَالْأَنْعَامِ وَالْحَرْثِ ۗ ذَٰلِكَ مَتَاعُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا ۖ وَاللّٰهُ عِنْدَهُ حُسْنُ الْمَآبِ قُلْ أَؤُنَبِّئُكُمْ بِخَيْرٍ مِنْ ذَٰلِكُمْ ۚ لِلَّذِينَ اتَّقَوْا عِنْدَ رَبِّهِمْ جَنَّاتٌ تَجْرِي مِنْ تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا وَأَزْوَاجٌ مُطَهَّرَةٌ وَرِضْوَانٌ مِنَ اللّٰهِ ۗ وَاللّٰهُ بَصِيرٌ بِالْعِبَادِ

Made innately appealing to men are passionate love for women, children, (hoarded) treasures of gold and silver, branded horses, cattle, and plantations. Such are enjoyments of the present, worldly life; yet with God is the best of the goals to pursue. Say (to them): Shall I inform you of what is better than those (things that you so passionately seek to obtain)? For those who keep from disobedience to God in due reverence for Him and piety there are, with their Lord, Gardens through which rivers flow, wherein they will abide, and spouses purified, and God’s good pleasure (with them). God sees the servants well. (Qur’an, Surah Ale ʿImran, 3:14-15).

Controlling our desires, bringing them under the control of the intellect and overpowering the ‘self’ is not an easy task and requires rigorous spiritual discipline throughout one’s life. However what we can say is that one trait which can definitely help achieve taqwa is the quality of servitude (ʿubudiyya).

2. Servitude to God (ʿUbudiyya)

ʿUbudiyya has also been described as one of the main objects of our life in the context of monotheism:

وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنْسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ

And I have not created the jinn and the men except that they should serve Me. (Qur’an, Surah al-Dhariyat, 51:56).

The concept of servitude entails that one is devoted to the service of a person, king or an organization. In servitude, one follows the rules and regulations of the entity whom we are serving.

Early in human history, the concept of servitude was embodied in the practice of slavery. Slaves were owned by their masters; they had little or no possessions and had no say in their own affairs. The best slaves were those who were the most loyal to their masters and followed the orders diligently. The slave modified his entire life according to the wishes of their master. They worked for the benefit and profit of the master.

In the context of monotheism, no one can give any benefit or profit to God as this would entail a dependent and a needy God and this is impossible. On the other hand, servitude in the context of monotheism means modifying our lives in accordance with God’s rules and instructions but for our own benefit. Serving God means following His guidelines and living according to His rules but only for our own prosperity.

One may argue and say: Why should I base my life according to someone else’s (God’s) wishes? After all it is my life, my body, my wealth, my house, my children, thus I should be the one deciding what to do with it.

Well are all of these things really yours? Is your life truly yours? If it is really yours, then why does death overtake you and end your life when you may not want it to end. If your body was really yours, then why does it get old and weak when you want it to remain young and strong. If your wealth and house are yours, how come you can lose them in an instant through a loss in business, a calamity or a natural disaster. If your children are truly yours, then why do they sometimes abandon you when you get old or in some instances, die in front of your eyes through an accident or illness and there is nothing that you can do about it?

The answer to all of these questions is that there is nothing truly yours nor under your true ownership, even as personal as your own body - but they have all been given to us during our temporary stay in this life.

All of this will be separated from us at the time of death and there is nothing that anyone can do about it. This is a very hard reality which is not that easy to acknowledge. Ponder over it!

يَا سَرِيعَ الرِّضَا

O He who is very quickly pleased!

اغْفِرْ لِمَن لا يَمْلِكُ إِلاَّ الدُّعَاءَ

Forgive the one who owns nothing except prayer.1

Once this reality sets in our souls, then we will be willing to cultivate the quality of servitude. Our servitude viz a viz God is our true status in the scheme of things. Servitude towards God is the key to unlocking and acquiring everything which is worth acquiring – especially the quality of taqwa:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ اعْبُدُوا رَبَّكُمُ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُمْ وَالَّذِينَ مِنْ قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ

O humanity! Serve your Lord Who created you and those before you so that you may guard (against evil). (Qur’an, Surah al-Baqarah, 2:21).

ʿUbudiyya is not only a desirable spiritual state in mankind, but an actual state in all of creation. The entire creation - the sun, the moon, clouds, animals and plants all are in a state of ʿubudiyya with no possibility of them going against the will of God.

إِنْ كُلُّ مَنْ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ إِلَّا آتِي الرَّحْمَٰنِ عَبْدًا

There is no one in the heavens and the earth but must come to (God) the Beneficent God as a servant. (Qur’an, Surah Maryam, 19:93).

Mankind however, due to being endowed free-will has the possibility of going against the will of God. Only those who realize their true poverty and dependence viz a viz God will be in a position to cultivate the spiritual state of ʿubudiyya. The state of servitude does not make a person weak, low, or poor but instead, it is the key ingredient to real strength, power and wealth. Servitude towards God is not against freedom, on the contrary servitude towards God frees us from every other servitude and gives rise to true freedom. It is only through acquiring the status of servanthood that any spiritual status can be achieved.

ʿUbudiyya in relation to God means that we deny attributing anything to us which truly belongs to God alone, but may manifest in us also. God, is the Greatest and I am insignificant; He is All Powerful and I am weak; He is truly rich but I am utterly poor; He is Honorable and I am debased; He is Alive and I am as if dead; He is Eternal and I am transient; He truly exists, but I am as if I never existed - and there is none but He.

Paradise

In the context of Divine religions, a successful believer is rewarded with paradise in the afterlife for leading a pious and upright life in this world.

For many people, achieving paradise is the goal of their life.

Paradise has been described as a place of tranquility, abundance, beauty and such blessings which no eye has ever seen, and no mind has ever imagined. One may ask why does mankind have to go through trials and troubles of this worldly life in order to reach paradise, why can’t the Merciful God just send everyone to Paradise directly?

The answer to this lies in the discussion about spiritual growth mentioned above.

As conscious beings exercising free will, we live in this world with our individual identity and our own ego. If we are given everything without going through spiritual training of this worldly existence, then we will become egocentric, self-focused thinking all that I see around me belongs to me and I deserve it. We will not be able to realize and appreciate the existence of God. Due to our egocentric nature, we will lack compassion and end up oppressing others.

Many people who are born into riches, or who do not face many hardships and get whatever they demand, end up acting like this. Without going through the ups and downs, hardships and ease of worldly existence, the human soul will not be able to move towards maturity and perfection. Once the soul has reached a degree of maturity it will be able to live in harmony with others in the abode of peace – known as Paradise.

The Final Goal

Mankind, as vicegerents of God on the earth have been bestowed with intelligence and free will, and in their journey of life they, are inflicted with various challenges and tests. This journey allows us to grow spiritually and cultivate the traits of servitude and God Consciousness as explained above. Those who have faith and do righteous actions and remain patient in the face of various struggles have been promised an everlasting abode of comfort in the form of Paradise after death. But is reaching Paradise then the ultimate aim of our existence? Is that where all of the roads will lead us to or is there something beyond Paradise?

In various verses, the Qur’an explains to us what the final purpose and goal of our life is. What is the ultimate reason for our existence?

وَأَنَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ الْمُنْتَهَىٰ

And to your Lord is the final goal. (Qur’an, Surah al-Najm, 53:42).

لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ ۖ إِلَيْهِ الْمَصِيرُ

There is no god but He; to Him is the final goal. (Qur’an, Surah al-Mu’min, 40:3).

The final aim and purpose of our existence is God, He is the source of our existence and to Him will be the return:

الَّذِينَ إِذَا أَصَابَتْهُمْ مُصِيبَةٌ قَالُوا إِنَّا لِلَّهِ وَإِنَّا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعُونَ

Those individuals, who when afflicted with a calamity say: Surely to God We belong, and to Him is our return. (Qur’an, Surah al-Baqarah, 2:156).

Now this may be surprising to many people - how can God be the final goal or purpose of our existence? Most of us do not think this way or have God as the focus of our efforts and endeavors. But the Qur’an repeatedly asks us to reflect on the creation of our own selves, as well as the universe to find the meaning of our existence:

أَوَلَمْ يَتَفَكَّرُوا فِي أَنْفُسِهِمْ ۗ مَا خَلَقَ اللّٰهُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ وَمَا بَيْنَهُمَا إِلَّا بِالْحَقِّ وَأَجَلٍ مُسَمًّى ۗ وَإِنَّ كَثِيرًا مِنَ النَّاسِ بِلِقَاءِ رَبِّهِمْ لَكَافِرُونَ

Do they not reflect upon themselves (even once)? God has not created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them save with truth (meaningfully and for definite, wise purposes, and on solid foundations of truth), and for an appointed term. But surely many among the people are in unbelief about the meeting with their Lord. (Qur’an, Surah al-Rum, 30:8).

If we ponder over what people seek and want, we can see a similarity in our efforts. All of us want to survive and live, so we seek existence and life. We also want to be in control of our affairs and surroundings, so we seek wealth, power and authority. We also want to know and come out of ignorance, so we seek knowledge and wisdom. We also want things that are good, so we reject what is bad, and seek goodness. We also seek beauty, and reject ugliness; we seek love and reject hate. Thus, all of us seek life, permanence, power, knowledge, goodness, beauty, love and perfection and they are nothing but God’s attributes. We may seek them in various objects or different people but we basically seek the same things. So intentionally or unintentionally we all are seeking God, we are programmed to seek Him and Him alone, and even the atheists who completely reject the idea of God seek nothing but Him. We are hard wired to do that; and we cannot escape this design.

The ultimate aim and goal of our struggle is to cultivate God’s attributes within us – meaning to have life, knowledge, power, beauty and love. This world reflects these attributes in different objects, but by its very nature it is temporary and changing.

A flower that looks beautiful today will wither away tomorrow; a powerful person today will lose his power tomorrow.

Thus, those who seek objects reflecting these attributes are seeking the shadows, but those who are God-conscious seek the light behind these shadows. They seek the reality as it is, while the rest of the people are caught up in the shadows. The closer we are to God, the more we reflect His attributes - just like a piece of iron gets hot if placed close to a fire. In the same way the practice of religion gets us closer to God, and as a result we should be able to reflect God’s attributes in our selves.

As my teacher, Dr. Mansour Leghahei states:

Life is a journey, religion is the path, faith is the beacon, taqwa is the provision, and the destination is God.

‘Meeting’ with God (Liqaʾ Allah)

From birth through childhood, then adulthood and up to old age we are constantly struggling - struggling to survive, struggling to improve our lives, to explore the world, and to make it a better place for us and for others. The final goal of this struggle and journey of life is nothing except God:

يَا أَيُّهَا الْإِنْسَانُ إِنَّكَ كَادِحٌ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكَ كَدْحًا فَمُلَاقِيهِ

O human! You are ever toiling toward your Lord in a labor, you will meet Him. (Qur’an, Surah al-Inshiqaq, 84:6).

God is not a person whom we can meet like meeting other people. Meeting here implies paying attention to someone, communicating with them or witnessing them. Meeting with God can be realized during acts of worship. The daily prayers (salat) and supplications are a time for personal communication with God. Going to visit the House of God (the Kaʿbah in Mecca) for pilgrimage is meeting with God. Even visiting the sick has been described as meeting with God.

The experience of meeting God has various degrees and levels. The time of death has been described as a time when everyone - whether a believer or an unbeliever will truly experience “meeting with God.” The post death experience of paradise or hell is also witnessing a manifestation of God’s beauty or His justice, and is a result of how a person has lived during this life. Meeting with God is certain for everyone - but the degree of it will be different.

Those who deny such a meeting, will be dreadful of it when it arrives and will be the losers. There apathy towards it is because of what they have done with their lives. However, there is no escape from it:

قَدْ خَسِرَ الَّذِينَ كَذَّبُوا بِلِقَاءِ اللّٰهِ ۖ حَتَّىٰ إِذَا جَاءَتْهُمُ السَّاعَةُ بَغْتَةً قَالُوا يَا حَسْرَتَنَا عَلَىٰ مَا فَرَّطْنَا فِيهَا وَهُمْ يَحْمِلُونَ أَوْزَارَهُمْ عَلَىٰ ظُهُورِهِمْ ۚ أَلَا سَاءَ مَا يَزِرُونَ

Assuredly, those have lost who deny the (truth of the final) meeting with God until, as the Hour comes upon them all of a sudden, they cry, Alas for us! how negligent we have been in this regard, when they have already loaded their burdens on to their backs. Evil indeed is the burden they are loading themselves with! (Qur’an, Surah al-Anʿam, 6:31).

But for the believers, it is a time of rejoicing, something to look forward to, something that they have been waiting for:

وَاتَّقُوا اللّٰهَ وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّكُمْ مُلَاقُوهُ ۗ وَبَشِّرِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ

And be careful (of your duty) to God, and know that you will meet Him, and give good news to the believers (of this meeting). (Qur’an, Surah al-Baqarah, 2:223).

The spiritual status of select individuals like the prophets or imams or the awliyaʾ of God (friends of God) is much higher than we can ever understand. They are completely immersed in monotheism such that they do not have any desire except for God. They seek neither worldly possessions, nor paradise in the hereafter. Their goal is nothing but God.

Such is their degree of servitude (ʿubudiyya) that one in this station annihilates their own being completely (i.e. their own desires, wishes, likes and dislikes). They live for the sake of God; they die for the sake of God; they see for the sake of God; they talk for the sake of God; they meet people for the sake of God; they love for the sake of God; and they hate for the sake of God - in short, their entire existence is centered around God. There is no “I” left in them:

قُلْ إِنَّ صَلَاتِي وَنُسُكِي وَمَحْيَايَ وَمَمَاتِي لِلَّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ لَا شَرِيكَ لَهُ ۖ وَبِذَٰلِكَ أُمِرْتُ وَأَنَا أَوَّلُ الْمُسْلِمِينَ

Say: My Prayer, and all my (other) acts and forms of devotion and worship, and my living and my dying are for God alone, the Lord of the worlds. He has no partners; thus have I been commanded, and I am the first and foremost of the Muslims (who have submitted to Him exclusively). (Qur’an, Surah al-Anʿam, 6:162-163).

These are the perfect human beings whose desire is God’s desire and whose actions are God’s actions:

وَمَا تَشَاءُونَ إِلَّا أَنْ يَشَاءَ اللّٰهُ رَبُّ الْعَالَمِينَ

But you cannot will (to do so) unless God wills, the Lord of the worlds. (Qur’an, Surah al-Takwir, 81:29).

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يُبَايِعُونَكَ إِنَّمَا يُبَايِعُونَ اللّٰهَ يَدُ اللّٰهِ فَوْقَ أَيْدِيهِمْ

Those who swear allegiance to you (O Messenger), swear allegiance to God only. God’s ‘hand’ is over their hands. (Qur’an, Surah al-Fath, 48:10).

They experience “meeting with God” at a much different level than ordinary people even in this world.

A reference to such a meeting is mentioned in relation to Prophet Moses (‘a):

وَلَمَّا جَاءَ مُوسَىٰ لِمِيقَاتِنَا وَكَلَّمَهُ رَبُّهُ قَالَ رَبِّ أَرِنِي أَنْظُرْ إِلَيْكَ ۚ قَالَ لَنْ تَرَانِي وَلَٰكِنِ انْظُرْ إِلَى الْجَبَلِ فَإِنِ اسْتَقَرَّ مَكَانَهُ فَسَوْفَ تَرَانِي ۚ فَلَمَّا تَجَلَّىٰ رَبُّهُ لِلْجَبَلِ جَعَلَهُ دَكًّا وَخَرَّ مُوسَىٰ صَعِقًا ۚ فَلَمَّا أَفَاقَ قَالَ سُبْحَانَكَ تُبْتُ إِلَيْكَ وَأَنَا أَوَّلُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ

And when Moses came to Our appointed time, his Lord spoke to him. (Then, in the rapture of nearness to God arising from his being addressed by Him) he said: My Lord, show me Yourself, so that I may look upon You! He (God) said: You cannot see Me (with your eyes in the world). But look at that mountain: if it remains firm in its place, then you will see Me. And the moment his Lord manifested His glorious Majesty to the mountain, He made it crumble to dust, and Moses fell down in a faint (as if struck by lightning). When he awoke, he said: All-Glorified are You (in that You are absolutely above having any defects and any resemblance with the created)! I turn to You in repentance (for my desire to see You), and I am the first of the (true) believers (who realize that You are beyond any resemblance to any creature and beyond the grasp of any creature’s senses). (Qur’an, Surah al-Aʿraf, 7:143).

And in the hereafter their dealing and interaction with God is at a much different level:

فِي مَقْعَدِ صِدْقٍ عِنْدَ مَلِيكٍ مُقْتَدِرٍ

In the assembly of honor composed of the loyal and truthful in the Presence of the One All-Omnipotent Sovereign. (Qur’an, Surah al-Qamar, 54:55).

For some people, the “meeting with God” starts at the time of death; because in death they lose the “I,” and the reality becomes manifest to them such that there is no doubt about the existence of God.

If a dying person is a believer with good actions then the post-death experience is pleasant; but if one is a wretched person then the experience is unpleasant.

Those who experience death for the sake of God have been described in the Qur’an with the term “al-shahid,” i.e. those who are a witness to the Glory and Majesty of God.

The friends of God who have annihilated themselves in God during this life are a witness to God’s Majesty and Glory even before death; they see nothing but God and His manifestation:

وَلِلَّهِ الْمَشْرِقُ وَالْمَغْرِبُ فَأَيْنَمَا تُوَلُّوا فَثَمَّ وَجْهُ اللّٰهِ إِنَّ اللّٰهَ وَاسِعٌ عَلِيمٌ

To God belong the East and the West (and therefore the whole earth with its east and west: wherever you are, you can turn to Him in the Prayer). Then, in whatever direction you turn, there is the ‘face’ of God. God is All-Embracing (with His mercy), All-Knowing. (Qur’an, Surah al-Baqarah, 2:115).

The likeness of annihilation in God is that of a drop of water merging with the sea. As long as the drop of water maintains its individuality it remains separated from the sea. Only when it loses itself and annihilates by merging into the sea, it becomes part of it. The seed - as long as it remains a seed is a tiny being - but when it loses its existence it becomes a mighty tree. Those individuals who annihilate their own being in God, subsist by His subsistence. For some it is achieved during this life and for many it is achieved at the time of death especially for those who give up their life for the sake of God.

In the whispered prayer (munajat) of Imam ʿAli (‘a) recited in the month of Shaʿban, he prays as follows:

O my God, (please) grant me absolute devotion to You,
And illuminate the sights of our hearts with the light of observing of You,
So that the sights of the hearts will penetrate the Screens of Light,
And arrive at the Core of Magnificence,
And that our souls hang to the majesty of Your Holiness.2
  • 1. Mafatih al-Jinan, Duʿa Kumayl.
  • 2. Mafatih al-Jinan, Munajat al-Shaʿbaniyya.