A SENSE OF PURPOSE
‘…Did you suppose that We created you for amusement and that you would not return to Us?’ (Surat al-Mu’minun:115)
Is it not a simple question? It is asking us “what are you thinking? What is your purpose of living? So that you can eat, sleep, work and then eat again and sleep again and keep on undergoing the same monotonous cycle until the moment you die? What extraordinary things have you accomplished after all these years of living?”
If people were to ask me what I have done in my life that is worth mentioning, I would be rendered speechless. And after a few seconds of hesitation, I would probably say, “Well, I was born, ain’t dead yet…and nothing much happens in between.”
Sure I go to school, I pass my exam and go to Uni. I have my ups and downs academically, emotionally, and had gone through all that with much patience and perseverance. But everybody else who has been a student, a daughter, a teenager and a young adult would have undergone the same things with some degrees of variation. So why should I bother to mention so mundane a matter?
“Well, I am a lecturer in Statistic and Pure Matematics. I did my doctorate in Cambridge Univeristy, and am now doing research in medical statistics.”
“I majored in Business admin, graduated summa cum laude…-“
“Well, I graduated egregia cum laude,” see if you could top that, she could have added.
And just what is egregia cum laude? Surely a very sophisticated-sounding term could only mean something very great and outstanding. Not that I would bother asking this out loud, lest anyone would think I am just plain stupid. And of course what everyone thinks matters.
You see, it would never be enough. You could be Australia’s greatest scientist and someone somewhere has won a Nobel prize. You can build yourself a big mansion complete with Olympic size swimming pool, and someone somewhere owns a castle with his own beach.
When would it be enough? You set yourself a target…by the time I am 30, I would have become a cardiologist, and only then I’ll be satisfied. But would you be surprised when once you got there, you then decide, ‘Nah! I should do a sub-specialist and be a cardiac surgeon,”
And of course a cardiac surgeon should not be living in a mere terrace house. At the very least, he should own a big bungalow. And what is a grand bungalow without a garage where a Mercedes should be parked?
Your lifestyle would become more luxurious with each passing year. And the enormous income that you earn would be used to finance an even more grandeur lifestyle. It would be a vicious cycle that would never end as long as you drift away without saying ‘Stop, hang on. What am I doing?’
And just what would trigger you to say “Hang on, I am drifting away,”. Would you even realize it?
Most people need a catastrophe of some sort to trigger them to self-reflect. A businessman at the brink of bankruptcy would suddenly remember he hasn’t paid his zakat for 20 years now. (funny that he remembers it only when he could no longer afford to do it. How convenient!). After a result of HIV positive, a homosexual can magically turns out straight (when he used to say his feelings cannot be helped because…yes you guessed it, love is universal.). During my various hospital attachments I have often met heavy smokers who stop smoking cold turkey after a case of heart attack that frightened them to near death. An alcoholic stop drinking right after his drunk-driving killed his best mate.
You could see there’s a pattern in all these, couldn’t you?
The pattern is similar in all cases: when faced with the thought of death, suddenly all pleasures in the world mean nothing. When you remember your final destination, everything you have ever cared deeply for become worthless and empty; zip, zero, nada, nothing!
Apparently catastrophes of some magnitude do have the uncanny ability to cast away the rose-tinted glass we have persistently worn all these years. Suddenly we would acquire the ability to see this world as it has always been; a temporary illusion. And we would weep and say, “Isn’t it sad, what we have done?”
Those people facing the catastrophe I have mentioned above, they are the lucky ones. At least, they were given the time and opportunity to pause, reflect and then make amends. Allah, the Most Gracious and Most Merciful that He is, would forgive their sins if they are sincere and earnest in their repentance, insya Alah.
But not all people are as lucky. Some people just continue making their way straight to the Fire of Hell. They are the heedless ones. What does Allah say about them?
They have eyes with which they see not and hearts with which they understand not. They are on a vast, abysmal sea. What covers them is a wave, above which is a wave, above which is a cloud, layer upon layer of darkness. So dark that when they hold out their hand, they scarce can see it. My respected brothers and sisters, we could easily become just like them if we are not careful in choosing our way of life.
So, the big vital question is, how do we protect ourselves from this debilitating disease of heedlessness? Well, a short Japanese proverb might give you a hint of what the answer could be.
“The pine hath a thousand years,
The rose but a day
But the pine with its thousand years
Glories not over the rose with its day,
If each but serves its purpose
Ere it passes away.”
You can live a thousand years but you will not glory over a person who lives just a day if you fail to do what you are supposed to do.
Why is it important to have purpose? Well, because in whatever you do, there is always something you need to accomplish by doing it. I go to Jesmond because I need to do my weekly groceries. I go to class because I need to gain knowledge about a particular subject. I eat and drink because I need to satisfy my hunger to gain energy for my daily activities. Imagine not knowing why you go to a shopping centre, and why you go to class, and why you eat and why you drink. Not having a purpose for doing something is inconceivable. Think about it! In every little thing you do, there’s always some conscious or subconscious purpose behind it. Even those who live their lives heedless and faithless have their own purpose; to please themselves and have fun. So I believe it is safe to say that everyone, regardless of whether or not he/she is religious, has his/her own purpose and agenda in life.
Throughout this article it might seem as though I am condemning the rich and the famous and the successful. Make no mistake. I am not saying it’s wrong to be rich and famous and obtain an egregia cum laude (whatever it means). By all means, be successful in this world, be a great, intelligent muslim, be rich and famous and fulfill your potential, but careful, lest you forget the hereafter. The ideal thing to do is for your work to be in accordance to Islam so that it can be regarded as an act of worship. Working and studying are ibadah too. Providing for your wife and kids is charity. But it is no longer ibadah when you spend hours working and studying yet you don’t make time for prayers.
One final question we need to ask is…is it enough to just have a purpose? Surely you need to determine that you have the right one. Or else all that effort would go to waste. That is what the verse that begins this article is asking. And because this article begins with that important question, I thought it appropriate to end it with the many verses that serve as the answers. May Allah open our hearts to see the truth when it is laid naked before our eyes. May He protect us from being among the heedless without the right purpose of life.
‘I only created jinn and man to worship Me. I do not require any provision from them and I do not require them to nourish Me. Truly Allah, He is the Provider, the Possessor of Strength, the Sure’ (Surat adh-Dhariyat: 56-58)
‘He who created death and life to test which of you is best in action. He is the Almighty, the Ever-Forgiving’ (surah al-Mulk:62)
‘We made everything on the earth adornment for it so that we could test them to see whose actions are best.’ (Surah al-Kahfi :7)
‘We created man from a mingled drop to test him, and We made him hearing and seeing. We guided him on the Way, whether he is grateful or ungrateful.’ (Surah al-Insan: 2-3)
‘Each and everyone of you will return to Him. Allah’s promise is true. He brings creation out of nothing and then regenerates it so that He can repay with justice those who believe and did right actions. Those who disbelieve will have a drink of scalding water and painful punishment because they disbelieved.’ (Surah Yunus:4)Note: This was an article I wrote when I was still active as the treasurer of UNIS (University of Newcastle Islamic Society) and it was published in the UNIS magazine. I found that this article still represent my life purpose now, as it did then. And hopefully steadfast shall I remain. Amin.