Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips
Part of a lecture delivered on the priorities of a Muslim today
Part of a lecture delivered on the priorities of a Muslim today
Not just Muslims, but every single human being has to answer the most fundamental question at some point in his or her lifetime:
"Why was I created? Why am I here? What am I doing in this world? Why did God create me?"
These questions are questions which each and everyone of us reflects on at some point during their life. We have some answers, which are given generally but usually these answers don't satisfy us - seeming somewhat simplistic. So, we still wonder: "Why me? Why here?". I know all of you (Muslims), are saying, "To worship Allah, khallas (finish). What more is there to say? Why do we need to have a big long talk on why we were created when we all know it is to worship Allah?!"
But wait. If this is presented to a non-Muslim, the next logical question would be, "Why does Allah want us to worship Him?" Then your stuck, which can only mean that in our own minds it is not really clear. Why did Allah create us to worship Him?
Addressing the question, "Why did Allah create us?", we have to understand how to deal with those people we live with (in the West). Those who don't consider there to be any purpose in man's creation, firmly believing that they are just a product of evolution and that the forces of nature. Just as we don't have apes, dogs or cows thinking about why they are here, then we also don't have to think about it either. Following from this belief being the basis of the philosophy of Western society (that man is without purpose), the whole issue of government, morality, etc. has no basis for them in Revelation. The product of this attitude is, of course, the corruption that we are living in.
When a Muslim addresses this topic, we have to find our understanding from Divine Revelation and not human speculation. Because human speculation has no bounds; we can imagine all kinds of things and if any of you has studied philosophy of religion, you will know how many opinions there are about the creation of man and existence. Because of the variety of philosophies which are out there, no one can say this one is correct or that one is incorrect, because there is no guidance behind it. No Divine Revelation. It is only from Divine Revelation that we can determine the reality of our creation, because it is Allah who has created us and so He knows the purpose of our creation. We can hardly understand it ourselves, much less trying to understand the essence of things. So it is for Allah to inform us through the revelation in the Qur'an and the Sunnah (the Prophetic traditions) which were brought to us by His Last Messenger and the Messengers before him.
Now if we are to look initially into revelation, to determine why was man created, there is a deeper question that we should be asking before that: "Why did God create?". This before we even get to man because man is not the greatest act of creation. Allah says:
"The creation of the Heavens and the Earth is indeed greater then the creation of mankind; yet, most of mankind know not." [Surah Ghafir, verse 57]
Man is not the greatest act of creation, this universe is far more complex and far more magnificent than man. So the issue of creation should then go to, "Why did God create?", as opposed to simply, "Why create man?".
Fundamentally, we can say that the creation is the natural consequence of the attribute of creator. Allah is the creator. That is one of his attributes. That is what he has informed us. That being his attribute, the creator, the natural consequence or the product of this attribute is his creation.
A painter, if we are to draw a similitude on a lower level, who tells you that he is a painter, if you ask him where are his paintings and he replies I don’t have any. What kind of painter is this? The concept of a painter who doesn’t paint, there is some thing not quite gelling together here, of course Allah is beyond this. But if we are to understand on the simplest level, the two go together. The perfection of a painter lies in his paintings. His quality and his ability to paint, is manifest in his paintings. And Allah, beyond all that, as creator, this quality of creation is manifest in the creation itself. Allah didn’t create out of a need. No, the fact that he is the creator, is manifest in the creation.
Furthermore, consider the act of creation, this act, with regards to Allah is unique. Though we use the term i.e. So and so created a table etc, actually it is in a limited sense. Human beings don’t really create, they manipulate, because they can only "create" what already exists. When we make a chair or a table, we didn’t create the wood, we had to take it from a tree, we didn’t create the metal, which makes the screws etc, we had to melt down rocks and take the metal out. So we are not creating from nothing. We are manipulating things which Allah has already created in to different shapes and forms which are useful to us. We call it "creation" but the real act of creation, is creation from nothing, and this is unique to Allah alone.
This is a concept, which many people in ignorance, because they couldn’t grasp the idea of creation from nothingness, it lead them to conclude that the world is Allah. Those who say "inside of each and every atom is Allah." And you have people, who call themselves Muslims saying this. Non-Muslims have said this before and there are Muslims who claim this. That Allah is inside each and everything, because Allah is the reality and everything else is fake in their interpretation. That means then, that the creation is Allah, and Allah is the creation. Very, very dangerous concept, which leads some of those who make this claim to say that you don’t have to worship outside of yourself. Ibn Arabi, was famous for this statement, he is considered to be one of the saints, amongst the so called Sufi religion. Ibn Arabi said "There is no need to worship one outside yourself, you are Allah. It is sufficient to worship yourself." This is Shirk.
This concept of Allah being within his creation, no distinction the creation and Allah, it leads them to this shirk. Because they are unable to accept the uniqueness of Allah’s creation, they compare the act of creation by Allah to human creation. That is, just as we manipulate, Allah took pieces of himself and made the earth and the universe. Others will say that all human beings have inside of themselves Allah, that there is a part of Allah inside each and everyone of us. The whole essence, the purpose of life is for us to realize that we have part of Allah inside of ourselves, remove the material blocks which keep us from Allah and again become one with Allah in what they call "fana". This is again a teaching of the Sufi religion.
Becoming one with Allah, returning back to Allah in this sense. But this is in fact part of the teachings of shirk. Shaytan (Satan) has deluded man into this imagination. It is part of the belief of the Hindus. Nirvana, the concept that when you die, you are reborn again, and you move up in stages, each time, if you are a good boy or good girl, you go up higher and higher, until you get to the top. You know you have reached the peak, because when you die the next time you become one with the universal soul, Nirvana. That is the end of rebirth. So your whole purpose is to return and become one with God again. This is all, as I said, a product of the inability to understand the concept of creation from nothingness, which is unique to Allah. Allah says:
"There is nothing like him, and he is the hearer and seer of all."
So when we try to interpret Allah’s creation like the way we create, then we have made Him like his creation and it leads us ultimately to those aspects of shirk which I have mentioned. This is quite common amongst the Muslim world today, because when you look into the various branches of the Sufi religion, where they have prescribed various acts of purification, they call it dhikr, exercises to torture the body through spinning and dancing. What is the purpose of this? They will tell you, to liberate the soul from this earthly body and to achieve that state of "fana" or "itihad", a variety of names they have for it.
It is this concept, which lead al-Hallaj, many centuries ago, when he was promoting this idea, and he was put before a panel of judges questioning these concepts, which he was expressing. When they asked him to recant, to take this stuff back, he stood up, opened up his cloak and said "There is nothing inside this cloak except Allah". So they executed him. And of course, those in the Sufi religion, they have stories that when they cut his head off, it rolled around saying "Allah, Allah, Allahu Akbar etc". It might have, that is Shaytan may have entered and said these things, as happened with the calf of the Isrealites, when the Prophet Musa (Moses) let Egypt and the people, after crossing the red sea, had a desire to have a god that they could see, so they made a golden calf which they began to worship. This calf was saying "moo" like the calves do. This is what convinced them that this was the real thing. We know it wasn’t the calf saying this. The evil jinn can enter the in to physical entities, make sounds and give these impressions. So there is no problem for us to say ok, maybe when they cut of al-Hallaj’s head that it said these things, because this was part of a test. If we are clear in terms of creator and creation, this is no problem for us.
Allah is the creator and everything besides Him is His creation, which He created from nothing. It is not Him, nor is He it. This is the pure concept as taught by the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam, his companions, and the early generations of righteous scholars, the students of the companions and those who came after them. The best of generations. That is how they understood this matter. There was no confusion in their minds. It wasn’t until Islam spread to areas like Egypt, India and Persia, areas where the Christians had already gotten into deep philosophies, trying to explain how Jesus was a man and god at the same time. When they came in to Islam they brought it with them. This is the reality. It is not something we should necessarily condemn them for or feel is unusual. It is natural, when a person reverts to Islam, that they will carry with them what they believed before. What has been clarified for them, of the basic principles, they accept, and they reject things, which obviously contradict. But it doesn’t mean that every last thought that they have, and everything that was wrong in their philosophies, ideology and concepts will be erased. They will carry these things in with them. This is why in the later part of the Prophet's sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam life, prior to his death, when he was coming back from one of the battles, his companions asked him to set aside a tree for them, that they could hang their weapons on, like the way the pagans would hang their weapons on trees, believing that when they hung the weapons, it became super-powerful, as if some power was coming from the tree, that their shields would now block steel and their swords would cut through the enemy. Some of the companions who had newly accepted Islam, asked the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam to designate one for them, a special one, an Islamic one. They understood that what the pagans had, this was wrong. These were the companions of the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam and he had to clarify it for them. He said:
You are like the companions of Musa who asked to have the calf built.
And he clarified for them that all of this is shirk and there is no place for it in Islam. So if it could happen to some of the companions, then we cannot blame the generations who have come after them, who come into Islam and carry with them some of their old ideas. What it is for us to do is to clarify.
So what we have in front of us then, is that Allah created this universe out of nothing, and everything that is in it was created. For example:
"Allah created all things, and he is the agent, upon which, all things depend." [Surah 39, verse 62]
This is the reality. This is stressed for us, in order for us to realize that ultimately, all good, all evil, that takes place in the world, only takes place by the permission of Allah. Therefore we should not seek any other channels to protect ourselves from evil, or to gather for ourselves good, as people commonly do today. They will go to fortunetellers, this is big business today, all the magazines have various forms of fortunetellers like dial a horoscope etc. in a society that has lost touch with Allah, this is what is open to them. Allah has stressed for us that no calamity will befall us except by Allah’s permission;
"Nothing is taking place in this world except by the permission of Allah."
And the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam further emphasized this principle by saying;
"If the whole of mankind gathered to do some thing to help us, they could not help in anything which Allah had not already written for us. And if the whole of mankind gathered together to harm us, then they would not be able to harm with anything which Allah had not already written for us."
Therefore what is required of us is to depend on Allah, put our trust in Allah. This is what we have to draw out of this attribute of Allah being the creator. This creation exists because of that attribute. Its practical significance to us lies in putting our trust in Allah.
There is another aspect, besides the fact that the creation exists because Allah is the creator. We can also see from what the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam has informed us, that in the creation there is manifestation of Allah’s attributes of mercy, forgiveness, kindness etc etc. Allah created man in paradise, they disobeyed Allah, but Allah had taught them how to repent, how to turn back to him and seek his forgiveness, then he would forgive them. Having done that, they were forgiven, Adam became the first prophet, and mankind was absolved of that sin. The story of Adam and Eve is the story of human existence. Human beings are given a consciousness of Allah. When Allah created all human beings, as he states in the Qur'an, he took from Adam (Adam) all of his descendents, and made them all bear witness that Allah is their Lord. So we are all born with that consciousness. He has also given us a consciousness of what is right and what is wrong.
"We have inspired each and every soul to an awareness of corruption and righteousness."
Allah gave revelation through his commandments, not to eat of the tree. However, human beings forget. And when they forget Allah then they fall into sin. We can absolve ourselves of that sin by means of repentance, and Allah forgives us when we repent sincerely. The Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam said;
"The one who repents is like the one without sin.""If you did not commit sins and turn to Allah seeking his forgiveness, then he would replace you with another people who would sin, ask Allah’s forgiveness and he would forgive them."
So in our sinning and asking Allah’s forgiveness, the attribute of Allah’s mercy and forgiveness becomes manifest. Allah knew what we were going to do before he created us, he knew that he was creating a species who would sin. If he didn’t wan t them to sin, if it was not his intention to permit them to sin, then he could have created angels, more angels. But the had already created angels, so he chose to create a being, that would disobey his commandments through forgetfulness or just simple disobedience, but would turn back to him in repentance, and his attribute of forgiveness would become manifest. Similarly, his mercy;
The Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam is quoted as saying that when Allah created the universe, He made an obligation on Himself, recorded in a document, kept by Him, that "My mercy precedes my wrath." He sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam also was reported as saying;
"Allah created mercy with a hundred parts. One of which was sent down upon the jinn and human beings and other living creatures. It is out of this one part that they love each other, show kindness to one another, and even the animals treat their offspring with affection. Allah has reserved the remaining ninety-nine parts for his true worshippers on the Day of Judgment."
This is the mercy of Allah manifest in his creation. What is also manifest in creation, in the act of creation, the creation of man, is his attribute of justice, fairness, which comes out as the judgment at the end of this world. I am sure we have all read the ahadith in which the Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam said:
"Allah created some people for hell and some people for paradise."
For allot of people, this is something very heavy. And the companions, they asked the prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam then what is the point in doing good deeds? If Allah created some for heaven and some for hell then what is the pin in doing anything? It has already been decided. The Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam said:
"Each one of you will find it easy to do what he was created for."
So if you choose the evil way, you find it easy and you carry on in that way, then that was what you were created for. But ultimately it is your choice. You choose hell. The fact hat Allah has recorded, before anything was created, who would be in hell and who would be in heaven does not change the fact that it is we who choose. The judgment is only to manifest to those who go to hell, that they deserve to be in hell. It is only for them basically. Because if Allah created you, and put you in paradise, with all that is in paradise, and you see those people in hell suffering, are you going to ask Allah, why did you put me in paradise? No. your going to say "all praise be to Allah!" you don’t want to question or to wonder, all you will be is ecstatic that you are of those in paradise. So the judgment is not for you, it is for those who are going to hell. If you happen to be amongst those who were created for and put in hell, you would say, why me? Why did you put me in hell? And Allah would say; because you would have done so and so in your life. But you would say; no, no I wouldn’t. If you give me a chance I would do good deeds. You would not give up arguing.
So Allah has allowed us to live out our lives. So when we stand before him, our book of deeds is spread before us, we know without a shadow of a doubt, that we chose hell. That Allah’s judgment is just. There is no injustice in it, in any way shape or form. Allah says he oppresses no one. We will know that we chose hell.
And the only thing that remains for us, and I pray that it is not in fact us, who are going to hell, is to beg Allah for another chance. Allah says;
"If you could only see when the sinners will bow their heads before their lord, saying; O Lord, we have now seen and heard, so send us back and we will do righteous deeds. Verily, we now believe with certainty."
This is the only response, which will be left for them. Or as Allah said;
"And those whose light scales of good deeds, they ruined themselves and they will be in hell eternally. The fire will burn their faces, and they will grin with disfigured lips, I will say to them; Were My Verses not recited to you, and you rejected them? They will reply; Our Lord, our misery overcame us and we were a people astray. Our Lord, bring us out of this, and if we ever return we will truly be unjust."
When we die, there remains behind us a barrier, the Barzakh, none of us will come back, it is a one-way ticket. Those poor individuals who think they will get another chance, this is the new age religion, they think it is new, but it is just plain old Hindu delusion, that when you die, you get another chance to come back again. The effects of this actually, among Hindus, where I am in the UAE, there are a lot of Hindus here, everyday in the news paper you read about a Hindu man or woman who ties a rope to a ceiling fan, which is found in many of the homes, put it around their neck, kicked away the chair and passed out of this world. Suicide is common amongst them. Why? Because they think they have another chance. It will be a rude awakening for them when they meet the angel of death and find themselves in the next life, realizing that there is no coming back.
In the creation of man is manifest the grace of Allah. This is a particular point which all of us should reflect on and be thankful to Allah for. His grace, and Christians, they like to refer to us Muslims as those who don’t believe in the grace of God, we are those who look at God’s judgment and it is just about deeds, you do good then you go to heaven, you do bad and you go to hell, that is it, no grace there at all. For them the grace of God is there for all those who accept that he became a man, and was crucified by man, to provide salvation for human beings who’s sins had become so great that they could not remove that sin through any act themselves. So it was with the spilling of the "Blood of God" that we could be absolved of our sins. For them, if you accept that God spilt his blood for mankind’s salvation, then you have earned the grace of God. Does not matter what you do as long as you have accepted this belief in the grace of God.
Muslims also believe in the grace of God. Actually it plays a major and significant role. Often it is not stressed but it is important for us to realize how the grace of Allah is manifest in our creation. The Prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam said;
"Observe moderation, but if you fail, try to do as much as you can moderately and be happy. For none of you will enter Paradise only because of his deeds."
Of course when the companions heard that they said;
"O messenger of Allah, not even you? And the prophet sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam said, not even me. Were it not that Allah wrapped me in his mercy. And bear in mind that the deed most loved by Allah is one done constantly even if it is small"
What does this mean? It means that God’s grace is manifest in our lives in that were He to call us to account, one good deed, one evil deed, equal to each other, then we would not enter paradise, not even the prophets of Allah. But Allah through his grace and mercy has multiplied the value of the good deeds. Allah says;
"Whoever brings a good deed, shall the value of ten like it. And whoever brings an evil deed will be punished with one like it. And they will not be wronged." [Surah Al-'Imran, verse 160]
This is Allah’s grace. Good deeds erase evil deeds. One good deed will erase at least ten evil deeds. Allah’s grace is not arbitrary, simply because you say I believe you have his grace, no matter what you do, no. The more good you do, the more of his grace is manifest in you. If you chose evil and reject the good, then you don’t receive His grace, it doesn’t matter what you say. If you say, I am a Muslim, I believe, but really you don’t believe, it is just some words you are saying, them you will not be subject to the grace of Allah.
So the creation is a manifestation of Allah’s attribute of being the creator. In the creation of man within the scheme of things, there is manifest Allah’s attribute of mercy, his attribute of justice and this is the reason for the creation of man from the point of view of Allah. From human perspective, why did God create man in terms of for what purpose? Then this is the one we all know and are familiar with;
"We did not create the jinn and men except to worship us" [Surah adh-Dhariyyat, verse 56)
So relative to Allah, we were created in a means or a way in which Allah has chosen to manifest his attributes of creation, mercy, grace etc and he could have chosen another one. But relative to us as human beings, we know that our purpose is to worship Allah. As we said, Allah does not need our worship, a Allah didn’t need to create. When he created us to worship him, he didn’t create us, out of a need for our worship, because Allah has no needs. In a famous hadith qudsi in which Allah says;
If all of you, jinn and mankind, were to worship like the most righteous amongst you, it would not increase the dominion of Allah in any way shape or form. And if all of us, jinn and mankind ...
Therefore when we look for the purpose of worship, we have to look into man. Allah created us to worship him, because we need to worship him. It is something he has given us as a means of benefiting ourselves. We are the ones who benefit from it. Worship has been established, fundamentally for the growth, the spiritual growth of man. This growth takes place through the remembrance of Allah. When you look at all the different aspects of worship, you will see the core of it is focused on the remembrance of Allah.
"Establish the prayer for My remembrance."
This is the essence for the consciousness of God. Allah says that he has:
"…prescribed for us fasting, as he prescribed it for those before us, so that we may fear him."
Worship is there for us to remember Allah. And it is in the remembrance of Allah, that we achieve that consciousness. Because it is when we forget Allah, that Shaytan causes us to disobey Allah and fall into sin. So it is only in His remembrance that we can attain salvation. All of the various acts of worship from saying "Bismillah" when we eat is to help us remember Allah in order to grow spiritually.
Allah has said that he has created us to test us, to see which of us is best in deeds. He is not testing us to know, in the sense that he doesn’t already know, but this world is a test for us in order again that we can grow spiritually.
We cannot develop this spiritual characteristic of generosity unless some of us have more then others and then we are required to give of the wealth we have. When we give, we grow. Similarly, if we were not in a position where others had more then us then we wouldn’t have the ability to develop the higher spiritual quality of contentment, patience, satisfaction in what Allah has given us.
So it is all there in order to bring out the higher spiritual qualities, which enable us to attain the state, which makes us suitable and eligible to return to paradise. The paradise from which we were created, we were created in paradise and for paradise. Through our choices we have left, in this life, a field of testing, where we can grow to a state where we deserve paradise.
The purpose of this life is the worship of Allah, this life is a test. A test for us, will we worship Allah, or will we forget Him. This is where our focus has to begin.