What is the true purpose of humankind, created in the best possible fashion as an honourable being and endowed with countless blessings from the Divine? What is expected of them? What are their responsibilities?
Allah, glory unto Him, asserts:
“What! Did you then think that We had created you in vain and that you shall not be returned to Us?” (Mu’minun, 115)
“And I have not created the jinn and the men except that they should serve Me.” (ad-Dhariyat, 56)
Muslim theologians have said that the first obligation humankind is commanded with is to turn to a contemplation that will deliver them to a knowledge of Allah (ma’rifa).
The most general and basic aim of the Holy Qur’an is to deliver minds and hearts from the invasion of every thought other than Allah, glory unto Him, and duly guide them to ma’rifa.
Human beings were created to know and to serve the Almighty. There is no better way to fulfil this aim than remembrance and recitation of His names (dhikr) and reflection. Worship is the essence of human life. Remembrance, on the other hand, is one of the best ways of worshipping Allah, glory unto Him. Remembrance and contemplation are like inseparable twins.
The most important thing for human beings is, without a doubt, attaining eternal happiness and peace. Other desires should be trivial in comparison. By far, the most essential means of reaching everlasting happiness and peace is ma’rifa.
Scientific knowledge is to grasp a given event with its causes and effects. Marifa, on the other hand, occurs with an additional understanding of Divine Will manifesting in that event. It is for that reason that knowledge of Allah, glory unto Him, has been referred to as ma’rifa, which is to understand the Almighty’s existence as much as is allowed by knowledge.
Tadhakkur (remembrance-thought) has therefore been given priority of mention over taqwa (piety) in the chapter entitled Mu’minun, in verses 84 to 87. For it is through contemplation and spiritual sensing that humans acquire knowledge of worth, through which comes a recognition of Allah, glory unto Him, instilling one with an awareness of the need to become pious and abandon opposing His Will. No deed is of any worth without knowledge of Allah.
There is thus not a shadow of a doubt that the noblest knowledge is ma’rifa. Junayd al-Baghdadi says:
“Had I known of a better knowledge under the sun than that pursued by the students of ma’rifa, I would not have dealt with anything else and striven relentlessly to acquire it.”
Similarly, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya says:
“In the Qur’an, Allah, glory unto Him, invites His servants to ma’rifa through two ways:
1. By observing the things created by Allah, glory unto Him, and reflecting on them;
2. By contemplating and reflecting on the verses of the Holy Qur’an.
The first group consists of the Lord’s observable signs, while the second consists of the visible, audible and thinkable.” (Ibn Qayyim, Fawaid, 31-32.)
Spiritually sensing and contemplating on these deliver one to an investigative faith (iman al-tahqiqi) and to the purpose of existence.
A poem expresses this beautifully:
The vast universe, a grand book of Allah, imposing,
Whichever letter you peer into, Allah is its meaning…
Contemplation Must Lead to Practice
To reach the truth through contemplation, it is necessary to put all the knowledge one has learned into practice. However much one may think of Divine truths and the verses of the Qur’an, this contemplation means nothing unless they properly practice what they learns, for practice is the external reflection of contemplating and spiritual sensing.
Imam Ghazali says in this regard:
“Knowledge, the fruit of contemplation, is to acquire a state of mind (hal) and turn to doing good deeds. Once knowledge sets in the heart, the heart begins to undergo change. And when the heart undergoes change, so do the deeds executed by the limbs. Action therefore depends on the state of mind, the state of mind on knowledge and knowledge on contemplation. That means that contemplation is both the beginning and the key to all things good. True contemplation is that which delivers one from ugliness to beauty, from greed to abstinence and contentedness. This is the kind of contemplation that yields perception and piety.” (Imam Ghazali, Ihya, VI, 47.)
Through a contemplating and sensing that is conducive to practice, the human being becomes cured from the disease of looking on at the marvels of the universe simplistically.
An ordinary person, who is impressed by manmade paintings which are after all based on an imitation of nature, cannot feel the same way when gazing at the universe in connection with its Creator. Things that should evoke awe are, for them, just ordinary happenings.
The pious, whose hearts are purified, on the other hand, have no business in acclaiming paintings made by artists with an interest of acquiring fame, and instead turn their interest and acclaim to the Real Artist and His masterpiece. They enjoy the zest of beholding the Divine art embroidered in the innumerable wonders of nature. They gaze at the multicoloured flowers and leaves of plants, the inexhaustible difference of colour, smell and shape each tree has, the unique taste of each fruit, even though they all spring from the very same soil, and look on admiringly at the wonderful patterns on the wings of a butterfly and the incredibility of human creation. They lend an ear to the mysterious words expressed through the silent language (lisan al-hal) of Divine wonders like eyesight and understanding, seen by many as just ordinary happenings.
For such people, the entire universe is like a book waiting to be read. Having surpassed knowledge of the written, they eye the knowledge of the heart. How great a joy for the true servants who, through a refined heart and a reason guided and enlightened by the light of faith, lead their lives in the climate of contemplating and spiritual sensing, and are thus able to attain ma’rifa.
The need to strive towards becoming a worthy servant of the Almighty is hence obvious. Making the most of each moment through deeds of worship and goodness and preparing for the life eternal in the best possible way is, moreover, essential.