The 'Meaning of Life' in Islam

This briefing is provided by a friend of RZIM.

Key Facts

  • Humans were created in order for them to worship (‘ubudiyyah) Allah. (Q51:56-58)
  • Every act that a human being does, if it has good intentions (within an Islamic rubric of ‘good’) becomes part of that worship.
  • In this context, the action therefore needs to also be done in accordance with the teachings of the shari’a.
  • In order to worship Allah Muslims must know Allah: therefore, the ‘Straight Path’ is a path of increasing discovery of Allah’s character as revealed in the Qur’an (and Hadith)
    • The Qur’an is also there to teach the Muslim how to worship Allah.
    • It is this connection that the doctrines of error in previous faiths; ie Judaism and Christianity are particularly important for Islam is therefore not simply a pathway to the discovery of Allah’s true character, it is also there for the benefit of correcting previous doctrinal error.
  • Our life on earth is a test (Q76:2) Test has multiple facets:
    • To see if one will turn aside from the path
    • To test how one’s time is used
    • To see if Muslims are actively looking for, and spotting, the signs of Allah at work in the world
    • The popular American online Imam Nouman Ali Khan talks about purpose and meaning in Islam in a short YouTube video on his ‘877-Why-Islam’ channel in which he asserts that the meaning of life in Islam is the submission of oneself to Allah in order to prepare yourself for the next life and to improve those around you. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trmGbK7wVcs

Data
As mental health and wellbeing is associated with having purpose, meaning and direction in life, this section offers data on mental health and wellbeing as a way of gauging whether the ‘meaning or purpose of life’ as articulated in Islamic doctrine translated into mental wellbeing. There is scant data and there will also be other factors involved in the results given below, but they do at least provide some basis for further thinking and conversation.

  • Mental wellbeing and happiness data on Muslims specifically is very hard to get however, figures from a 2018 article on mental wellbeing in Muslims in Europe aged 18-80 extrapolated the following findings:
    • Steadily improving figures for mental health and wellbeing from 2002 – 2012 (last date of the available data)
    • Protestant Wellbeing is consistently higher.
    • Muslim mental wellbeing was briefly above, and then the same as, Catholic mental health and wellbeing.
  • The Journal of the American Psychiatric Association’s note on the Mental health of Muslim Americans found that 85% of Muslim-Americans said their faith was a source of happiness to them. That figure is only surpassed by white Evangelical Americans of whom 94% said their faith was a source of happiness for them.
    • The same article contained the following data taken from two samples of US Muslims, one in Chicago and the other collected from Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Virginia and Kentucky (IMMVK):
    • 43% Muslims in Chicago seeking help had Adjustment Disorder as compared to 19% across IMMVK.
    • 15% Muslims in Chicago seeking help were diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder as compared to 12% across IMMVK
    • The article noted that mental illness in Muslim Americans could be attributed to the believe that the patient was being tested by God or that they believed they were being given the opportunity to remedy they disconnection from God.
    • However, the article also observed that the observation of daily prayers reduced mental depression.
    • It also observed that religiosity was a predictor of better family function and less depression. This seems slightly questionable and it would have been good to dig into the basis for that observation a little more.
  • A Gallup poll of mental wellbeing in Gulf States in 2012 reported 63% of UAE citizens as ‘suffering’, 56% Qataris ‘Suffering’ and 43% Saudis ‘Suffering’.
  • According to data from the Mental Health Institute and Treatment Centre (MHITC) of Pakistan, 80 million Pakistanis are suffering from psychological or mental illness out of a total population of 197 million.

Useful Quotes

  • “And I did not create the Jinn and Mankind except to worship me…”(Q51:56-58)
  • “Allah says, 'Son of Adam, fill your time with my worship and I will fill your heart with richness, and end your poverty. But if you do not, I will make your hands busy (in dunya affairs) and I would not end your poverty.’” Hadith Al-Tirmidi
  • “[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.” (Quran, 67:2)
  • “Did you think that We had created you in play (without any purpose), and that you would not be brought back to Us?” (Quran 23:115)

Talking Points

  • Compare the purpose and role of humans in the Bible (as described in Genesis 1: 26-27) with that described in Q51:56-58 quoted above.
  • Given the data above, it would be interesting to ask Muslims about why Protestant wellbeing is consistently higher than Muslim wellbeing.
  • It is worthwhile noting that living ‘the purposeful life’ in Islam does not guarantee that the Muslim believer will pass through judgement into Paradise.
  • It might be worth asking what assurance of salvation they have according to the Qur’an and Hadith.
  • Compare passages about ‘testing’ and the purpose of it in the Qur’an with those in the Bible such as Psalm 66:10 and James 1: 2 – 4.
  • It is interesting to note that in the Russian portal on Islam in which the purpose and meaning of life in Islam are discussed, the central doctrine of being made for worship (as highlighted above) is not mentioned. Instead, in the Russian informational portal about Islam, passages in the Qur’an relating to ‘being the best of men’ (Q3:1) in a world full of ‘perverted transgressors’ are foregrounded. (Anon, 2012)
  • University of North Carolina Professor Laurence Brown, in a lecture on the purpose of life in Islam published online in 2007 proposed that it was to serve Allah. This is subtly different from worshiping and it would be interesting to question Muslims about which they believe is more accurate.

References
Anon, ’80 million Pakistanis suffering from physiological, mental illness’, 21st May 2017 www.pakistantoday.com.pk accessed 30th January 2020
Anon, ‘What is the purpose of life?’ 31st December 2012 [http://islam.ru/en/content/story/ what-purpose-l-i-f-e] accessed 30th January 2020
Anon (2012) ‘Life evaluations in the GCC: Subjective wellbeing and health’ www.news.gallup.com accessed 30th January 2020
Aftab, Awais and Chandan Khandai, (2018) ‘Mental Health Disparities: Muslim Americans’ www.psychiatry.org accessed 30th January 2020
Brown, Laurence, ‘Why are we here?’ 12th March 2007 https://www.islamreligion. com/articles/527/big-questions-part-2/ accessed 30th January 2020
Hodge, Zidan and Ahmed Husain, (2016) ‘Depression among Muslims in the United States: Examining the Role of Discrimination and Spirituality as Risk and Protective Factors’. Social Work Vol. 61, No. 1, pp45-52
Malaekah, Mostafa, ‘What is the purpose of life?’ (n.d.) https://www.islam-guide.com/purpose-of-life.htm accessed 29th January 2020
Stacey, Aisha, ‘What is the meaning of life? Why am I here? The answers you are looking for’ 8th July 2015 https://www.newmuslims.com/lessons/295 accessed 29th January 2020
Zorlu, Aslan and Paul Frijters (2019) The happiness of European Muslims post-9/11, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol.42, Iss. 16, pp23-44.

5 Likes

Hi Stuart @Stuart_McAllister,
I enjoyed reading your post as it gave great comparisons between the Quran and the Bible. I live in a Muslim nation that has seen a great move of Muslims away from their religion. Mostly amongst Millenials, who are now are amongst a largely silent group of atheist. As I meet them and talk I find that most have walked away from Islam because of its consistencies. As the world becomes smaller (socially-internet etc) many are now realizing that they have been misled all their lives.

How do I approach these ‘Muslim’, now that they have walked away from Islam? The biggest problem in this country is that it’s against the law and many have ended up being sent for re-schooling. I have many in my groups that are now following bible studies and discussions but there many out there who fear the backlash.

Another notable problem is the disconnect between race and religion. In Malaysia, the majority ‘Malays’ are called ‘Muslim Malay’, seldom will you hear the word ‘Malay’. They are the privileged race and are provided under the constitution with special rights, that we non-Malays do not have.

Not only are they walking from a belief but they race, family and social and special status here. I have always tried to show that they have an intrinsic value and a purpose. Most cannot see that distinction and they seem entrenched from that separation. That is why I have faced some seemingly friendly and courteous people, who like 'Jekyll and Hyde" become vicious, rude and confrontational. Do you have any advise or approach when facing such audiences?

Thank you, SIr and God Bless

4 Likes