Erin J. Carlson
hy was I created? What am I to do with my life? Why did God send the prophets? Human beings have always been intrigued by the answers to these questions, as they are critical to unearthing numerous other mysteries. Moreover, the purpose of creation even helps to explain issues that are related to the Afterlife, such as what will become of us when we die. In other words, the goal of creation is the goal of life.
There are several verses in the Quran that outline very clearly why God created the universe and humankind. God was the only existence, and He wanted to be known, loved, and obeyed by intelligent beings that, unlike the angels, would have the free will to choose to worship God. Thus, God created the universe in which the human beings would dwell, multiply, and be subject to a life-long trial, lasting until Judgment Day when the universe would be destroyed, only to turn into a different realm for the Hereafter.
The human mind has the intellectual capacity to contemplate nature and to reach the conclusion that there has to be a Creator for this complexity to exist in such an orderly manner. Yet, how could we know the reason why God created the universe and humankind in particular? Islam recognizes three sources for the answers: the messengers, the scriptures (the Quran in particular), and the universe as ˜the book of signs. These sources explain that creation is a necessary manifestation and the purpose of this manifestation is for the creatures to know God, to love God, and to worship and obey God.
The Word Khalq (creation) and the Creator Al-Khaliq
The Arabic word khalq comes from the root kh-l-q and refers to the act of creation. Creation in Islamic terminology primarily signifies creating something from nothingness in accordance with the creatio ex nihilo (the doctrine of the theory of creation from nothingness). The ability to create belongs only and only to God, who is the al-Khaliq. He is the One Who creates from nothing, establishing at the same time the states, conditions, and the sustenance of all that He has created.1
Islam is built on the principal of the unity (tawhid) of God, which is prevalent in every aspect and practice of the religion. Since He is the only creator, the entire universe owes its existence to God; therefore He is the only one worthy of worship. Likewise, all Islamic principles are deduced by reason, are built on each other, and can be traced back to the fact that God is the Sole Creator.
Sustaining the Creation
The Creator not only has created, but also governs the world according to an order that issues from His Wisdom as well as His Will.2 Thus, Gods Hand is present in all things at all times, as is evident in the harmony and order of nature. The Quranic verse In Whose Hand is the dominion (malakut) of all things(23:88) explains this phenomenon clearly. Everything in the cosmos has a divine aspect to it, since everything was created and is sustained by the Divine One, and more particularly, because God breathed into everything His Divine Breath. Ibn ˜Arabi states that there is no property in the cosmos without a divine support and a lordly attribute.3
The very essence of the cosmos is the ˜Breath of the Compassionate (nafas al-Rahman) while cosmic forms and all that constitutes the order of nature emanate from the archetype realities and ultimately the Divine Essence Itself.4
Thus, Islam views each animate and inanimate being as sacred, as reflecting some aspect of God. Environmen-talism and humanism (in the sense of loving human beings because of the Creator) are innate to Islam due to this principle, and are manifest in Islamic literature and the practices of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
The Purpose of the Creation of the Universe
Islamic theology holds that creation is not without a purpose, rather it has a divine purpose. Numerous verses in the Quran urge humans to question and to observe the creation so that they can understand that it has not been and cannot be created in vain.
Not without purpose did We create heaven and earth and all between! That was the thought of the Unbelievers! But woe to the Unbelievers because of the Fire (of Hell)!(38:27)
"Did you, then, think that We created you in vain and that unto Us you will not be returned?" (23:115)
Gods intention in creating the universe is clearly outlined in the Quran and is centered on humanity. Numerous verses in the Quran explain how the whole universe, the heavens and the earth are arranged to provide for and to serve humanity (Quran: 2:22; 2:29). Thus the universe and everything within are subordinate to mankind, putting the responsibility on man to take care of nature, bringing us back to the environmentalism theme in Islam.
The universe has another, more essential role to play other than for serving humanity. Nature is a divine revelation reflecting and manifesting the Creator. In other words, the most important trait of the cosmos is its theophany. God has also designed it to be a book of signsfor humankind. Human beings may recognize Gods Majesty and comprehend His Divine Names by contemplating nature. As Esposito argues, nature, properly viewed, becomes a revealed book very much like the Quran is itself, composed of individual signs or miracles.5
Do they not look at the sky above them? How We have made it and adorned it, and there are no flaws in it?(50:6)
When viewed from this perspective, the universe takes on an entirely different meaning and becomes increasingly significant for man. The study of natural sciences becomes almost an act of worship, since it leads to knowledge of the Creator. God, in the above verses, urges humans to use the intelligence that He gave them. It is emphasized that we are given this intelligence (and were not created as a plant or an animal, with limited intelligence) so that we use it in the right way and recognize God. Early Muslims took up this command; both natural and social sciences flourished in the Muslim world for centuries in medieval times.
In one of the most well-known phrases on the subject of the purpose of creation, God conveyed through Prophet Muhammad (pbuh): I was a Hidden Treasure and I loved to be known, and so I created the world.6 God manifests His Treasures through His creation since He is a transcendent being that cannot be limited to time and space, and cannot be conceived directly. Also, Prophet Muhammads (pbuh) own words explain that the universe and its contents were created in order to make known the Creator, and to make known that good is to praise it.7 Both of these hadith refer to and require a being with free will and intelligence to know and praise God, which brings us to the core of the matter.
The Purpose of the Creation of Humankind
If the universe was created to serve humanity then what is the purpose of creation for humankind? There are three main reasons that are agreed upon by a wide range of scholars as to why God created humanity: to know God, to love God, and to worship God. All of the Prophets, the revealed scriptures and the universe, as the book of signs, serve as tools through which we know God. The reason for their existence is solely to guide humanity to recognize, acknowledge, and revere God as He deserves. Only after knowing God can we begin to love God in a more conscious and appreciative manner.
I have not created the jinn and mankind except to worship (ibaadah) Me(51:56).
Then the question takes on a new form; what is meant by serving God, or how does one serve God? The Arabic word used in this verse is ˜ibaadah, which translates into English as worship(origin weorthscipe, meaning honor). In this sense, all the prophets preached ˜ibaadah, conveying the message of what God wants human beings to do. In general, worship is defined as all those acts within the circle of halal8 (the acts do not have to be physical, even an intention can be counted as worship) done for the sake of God, to please Him.
Why does God want human beings to worship him by obeying Him and His Divine Laws? Without faith in ones heart, the immediate response to obedience and worship is ˜why does God need my worship? However, it is the human beings themselves who need the worship. Islam presents Divine Laws that guide all aspects of life by distinguishing right from wrong. The Creator alone knows best what is beneficial for His creation and what is not. The divine laws command and prohibit various acts and substances to protect the human spirit, human body and society from harm. In order for human beings to fulfill their potential by living righteous lives, they need to worship God through obedience to His commandments.9 Also, the underlying purpose of the regular acts of worship is to constantly remember God.
What follows is the trial, a concept common to all three monotheistic traditions, although in Islam it takes on a slightly different connotation (The Quran: 18:7; 67:2). Human beings will be held accountable for every single action they do in this life, good as well as bad. Since God provided humanity with guidelines (Divine scriptures) and Messengers and since He gave us intelligence and free will, without accountability and the Judgment Day, creation would be in vain.
He it is Who created the heavens and the earth in six Days-and His Throne was over the waters - that He might try you, which of you is best in conduct(11:7)
God created the heavens and the earth in truth, so that every soul may be rewarded for what it has earned; and they shall not be wronged.(45:22).
The Vicegerency of Humanity
The optimal reason for the creation of humankind lies in the concept of vicegerency. What does it mean for humanity to be the vicegerent of God on earth? God called upon the whole of creation and informed them that He had a trust to offer. All of creation, including the mountains, refused to accept this challenging trust, all, that is, except humanity. Thus, humanity became Gods trustee on earth. There are varying arguments for the definition of the trust. Mawlavi claims that since the only unique trait that humans possess is free will and choice, then this must be the trust. There are several extremely clear verses in the Quran stating that God has appointed humanity as His vicegerent on earth.
It is He Who made you successors on the earth.(6:165)
Philips explains this long term cycle of the role of human beings as follows:
God created human beings with the potential to be good and evil. He implanted in man the desires that need to be controlled according to the Divine Law. God created human beings knowing that they would disobey Him. He thus taught them how to repent and purify themselves. The story of Adam and Eve is a prototype of the human beings repeated cycle. They forgot Gods commandment and were lured by Satan. They disobeyed God and afterwards repented and God forgave them.10
Conclusions to be drawn
The Quran outlines the appropriate chain of conclusions to draw after acknowledging God as the sole creator. Since God created existence and is the source of sustenance, then His creatures should live according to His Will. Thus, the Messengers and the revealed divine scriptures expound the right way of life for His creatures. God urges humans to use their intelligence and power of reasoning to contemplate the universe and the scriptures so that they can recognize and acknowledge Gods wonders. Awe for and thankfulness to God naturally follow, as existence depends only upon Him.
O people, worship your Lord Who has created you as well as those who came before you so that you may guard against evil.(2:21).
His being the creator is a central reason that he is deserving of worship for the entire universe owes its existence to him;11 therefore worship is a requirement of loving and acknowledging God. Also, Worship of him proceeds not merely from his gracious creative act in the past but from dependence upon him for existence at every instant of the present and the future.12
"And why should I not worship Him Who created me, and to Whom you shall be brought back?(36:22).
As is evident from the abundance of Quranic verses related to the creation process and the purpose of creation, God did not leave much room for interpretation nor did He leave this subject ambiguous. Since creation is not a divine comedy, humanity has to understand the reasons for its creation, thus enabling the purpose of creation to be fulfilled. The answer to the crucial question, ˜why have we been created? helps unfold numerous other religious and philosophical questions, thus it is an inclusive and important matter to study and comprehend in the context of Islam.
Conclusively, the purpose of creation can be summarized as follows: God was the only Being; He wanted to be known, loved, and obeyed by intelligent beings that would have the free will to choose to worship God. Creation was not a necessity, but a result of the Divine Will of God. We, as human beings, regard our lives as the most precious thing we have and we would do anything not to lose them. It is, therefore, His Mercy to have created us as human beings without even our knowledge, and also that He sustains us and makes it possible for us to enjoy this life. From this perspective, loving and worshipping God becomes more relevant and logical.
1 Bayrak, Sheikh Tosun. The Name and The Named.Fons Vitae, 2000., p. 64.
2 Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. Religion and The Order of Nature.Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 53.
3 Ibid, p. 61.
4 Ibid, p. 61.
5 Esposito, John. The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World.Oxford University Press, 1995, p.474.
6 Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. Ideals and Realities of Islam,ABC International Group, Chicago, 2000, p. 133.
7 Lings, Martin. Symbol and Archetype: A Study of the Meaning of Existence.Malta, Quinta Essentia, 1991, p. 1.
8 ˜Circle of halal is a phrase used to signify all those things, acts, and inten
tions that fall into the category of the permissible in Islam.
9 Philips, Abu Ameenah Bilal. Belief: The Purpose of Creation. www.viewislam.com/belief/purpose, p.3.
11 Esposito, John. The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World.Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 472.
12 Ibid, p. 472.
- Khan, Pir Vilayat Inayat. Awakening: A Sufi ExperiencePenguin Putnam, New York, 1999.
- Mutahhari, Ayatullah Murtada. Fundamentals of Islamic Thought: God, Man and the Universe.Mizan Press, Berkeley, 1985.
- Mutahhari, Ayatullah Murtada. Goal of Life. Foreign Department of Bethat Foundation, Islamic Republic of Iran. www.al-islam.org/short/goal.
- Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. Knowledge and the Sacred.Crossroads Publishing, New York, 1981.
- Nursi, Bediuzzaman Said. The Words: On the Nature and Purposes of Man, Life, and All Things.Sozler Publications, Turkey, 1992.
- Perry, Whithall. A Treasury of Traditional Wisdom.Quinta Essentia, United Kingdom, 1971.
- Philips, Abu Ameenah Bilal. Belief: The Purpose of Creation. www.viewislam.com/belief/purpose.
- Shariati, Ali. Man and Islam.Filinc Ltd, Texas, 1981.
- Ward, Keith. Religion and Creation.larendon Press, Oxford, 1996.