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Purpose of Life & the Higher Goals of the Islamic Law

If I were to say Muslims are far from Islam both in understanding and implementation, it would not be an exaggeration. From recognising the Purpose of Creation to comprehending the Purpose of Shariah (Islamic Law), the general understanding of the majority of Muslims is observed to be flawed. At the same time, our moral decay and misplaced priorities are an evidence for our abandonment of the religion in practical terms. While I am not talking in absolute terms, this is what a birds-eye view of our communities would suggest. Rarely would you find a person who can establish his understanding of Islam based on Quran and the way of the Prophet (SAW). And it would be even rarer to find the conduct of Muslims at par with that of the Companions of the Messenger, who are our ideals when it comes to transactions and worldly dealings.
Every individual has adopted an understanding of this divine religion based on his personal reasoning. However, it is the consensus of Muslims throughout ages that whenever we adopt a belief, it has to be on the basis of explicit texts from the Quran and the Sunnah. There is very little scope for free reasoning when it comes to most fundamentals of the faith. So the claim to a personal understanding of the religion falls apart. Specific understandings of the religion would also mean that we don’t have a set pattern in existence to count on in our creed and if we take it a little further Islamic law would also become a subject to debate. That would lead to pure chaos! This is precisely why the scholars of Islam established principles decoded from the Quran and Sunnah that lay foundations to correctly understand and interpret the divine texts. These rules are encoded in the books of Usool al-Fiqh which is not the subject of this essay. Speaking briefly about these rules, we as Muslims ought to take the understanding of our religion from Quran and Sunnah. Furthermore, it is incumbent upon us to consider the application of Islam by the four righteous caliphs and the general body of the companions.
Going deeper into the debate, since we believe that God is the All-Wise, the texts that have been revealed to make us understand our religion are to be revered and accepted without question. The Creator speaks about His creation based on certain knowledge, while the creation would just be able to make hypothetical claims based on mere conjecture or at the most some limited research. This is because the limited capacity of the human brain may or may not appreciate all the dimensions of faith. Now, I don’t claim that all the use of reasoning is wrong per se, but what I am impressing is that when it comes to belief, the Creator would be better equipped to reveal the nature of unseen phenomena than someone from the creation.
Being true to understanding our purpose of creation is the most important aspect of our faith. We find Allah speaking about it at more than one instance in the Glorious Quran. From saying, “And I (Allah) did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” (Surah adh-Dhariaat, Ayah 56) to informing us in explicit terms that, “[He] who created death and life to test you [as to] which of you is best in deed – and He is the Exalted in Might, the Forgiving” (Surah al-Mulk, Ayah 2), the purpose of our creation has divine wisdom attached to it. The wisdom is to test our conduct, both these verses are self-explanatory and don’t need a further exegesis. But if we ask around, many of us would be unaware of these two tremendous verses of the Quran. And in many cases, these verses would be seen as heterodox as most of the people believe in the purpose of creation to be something other than what Quran informs. Whether the predominant belief is based on hearsay or reluctance to accept the reality of this world, the crux is that humans are here in this world to be tested and they will be judged based on the merit of their actions on the day of resurrection.
With the purpose of creation being just the servitude of the Creator, the question arises how that station is achieved. It is incomprehensible that God created us for a reason and then left us free to choose the path to reach His pleasure. That’s not how a divine religion would work. A religion needs to produce cosmos and push away chaos from human life in order to be true. Philosophies that can’t help humans to achieve a calm peaceful state where everyone is happy, content and productive, are unlikely to be true or divine. Allah chose the religion of Islam for us, and that is the belief of Muslims and there are detailed laws in the Shariah that need to be adhered to. Generally the scholars of Islam have described worship as doing anything that God gets pleased with and abstaining from everything that displeases Him. Now, note that God loves everything that is just and pure, so God is not the benefactor of our worship, rather we as a community are benefited by good conduct pleasing to God. However, there are major goals of the Shariah, understanding of which would give us an appreciation of Islamic law as a legal and ethical code.
Scholars of Islam have deduced five major reasons for which the Shariah was revealed. The result was achieved after consistently studying Islamic laws to find a pattern in their outcomes. The five higher goals of the Islamic Law are Protection of Religion, Self, Mind, Offspring, and Property. These goals are there to help mankind to achieve happiness in this world and the hereafter by adopting all good and leaving all bad.
Talking about the Religion as a Protector, this is because religion is seen as a main reformer of humankind and naturally there should be laws to protect its proper application. There are various forms of worships that are entailed in this realm, from meditation to ritual prayer, fasting, charity and Hajj. Consciousness about being judged after death and being accountable for your actions has a natural consequence, you become considerate in your actions. Thus protecting the very foundation on which this feeling becomes a must. Islam obliges those in authority to protect the sanctity of religion and make it easy for the community to follow. The call to prayer from the mosques, the recitation of Quran and seeking of Islamic knowledge in schools are all a part of the Shariah which need protection. There are laws not just for encouraging the following of the Shariah but also those that lead to punishing those who work to destroy the religion from within or outside.
The next comes Human Life, protection of which is a great goal that Shariah is in place to achieve. Life is a gift from Allah and no one is entitled to destroy it, even for his own self. Also, any reason that leads to loss of life is barred. Example, it’s upon Muslims to look after the poor and the needy and ensure that no one dies of hunger. Charity here has been enjoined to tackle the problems of hunger. Cooperation and helping fellow beings are important things to achieve social solidarity.
However, Islam does not shy away from enforcing capital punishments as a means to hold people back from aggression and protection of life. Islam is a religion that takes the greater benefit into consideration. If killing a murderer or a spy can help in saving a large number of innocent lives, Islam encourages such executions.
Human mind or intellect is the cornerstone of his positive functioning of the society. The mind is responsible both for religious and communal responsibilities. It is the mind that makes one think for the benefit of the society and keeps one away from harm. This is how a healthy mind would function. Therefore, all forms of intoxicants that can harm the good functioning of the mind are prohibited in Islam.
When it comes to Protection of Lineage and Progeny, Islam has a very strict code of conduct. Islam wants good for humans and the strict laws it imposes should be seen as a blessing and not as subjugation. Islam encourages marriage and terms it as a part of ones’ faith. Islam discourages both fornication and adultery and even prohibits all ways that lead to it. Hijab, prohibition of the free intermingling of the sexes, restrictions on dating, the illegality of rape, and forbiddance of women travelling alone outside their city boundaries are laws that help in achieving the greater goal of protection of the progeny. Now it may seem some kind of oppression of women who have a great role to play in this aspect of the shariah. But once we realise that Allah is both wise and just, our scepticism should go away. Islam sees women as soft targets of male oppression and creates boundaries so her sanctity is hard to be violated. Establishing the need for Hijaab and laws governing are a topic for a separate debate.
Protection of Property is another goal that Shariah guarantees to achieve. Islam encourages the moderate gain of wealth and moderation in spending it. Islam is very much in favour of earning with one’s own hands and piling up property that can be used for the general welfare of people including the owner first and foremost.
If understood in the correct sense, Islam is a perfect way of life which ensures guidance in this world and bliss in the next. The only area where we Muslims lack is understanding the divine message and implementing it to our advantage. Once the barrier of the false understanding of this message is broken, a healthy way of life would no more be an illusion.
(The writer is a Marketer by profession who has done his Master’s in International Business from University of Bedfordshire in the UK. He is the Co-Founder of Cut & Paste, the first of its kind Creative Marketing Agency in Kashmir. He has studied Islam part time from bona-fide scholars but most of his efforts to learn Islam have been invested in learning via tapes and books of major scholars of our time.)