ONE of the prime objectives of every religion is to guide its followers towards the answers of questions of ultimate significance. These questions relate to the origin of human beings, their ultimate aim in life and their position in the universe vis-à-vis their responsibilities.
Such questions include the following: who are we? Why are we here? Is there a purpose to life? Why is there evil and suffering in this world? What happens after we die?
These questions are different from ordinary ones, and mostly confront a person when faced with a crisis in life, such as the loss of loved ones, warlike situations, accidents and natural calamities, etc. Their answers are not easily found, but interrogation leads to revelation; they require deep and pensive thinking.
All people confront the big questions of existence.
The Holy Quran presents the example of Prophet Abraham in 6:76-79 when he was in a deep crisis and started searching for the ultimate truth. He first saw a star, then the moon and sun and declared each “My Lord” but when they set, he said “I like not those who set”. Eventually, he experienced the ultimate truth.
His experience is relevant to our lives as a whole as it seeks answers and life’s ultimate meaning.
The Quran says indeed there has been an excellent example for you in Abraham (60:4). These questions are not confined to any specific period of history or particular culture. They are as significant today as they were thousands of years ago, and they will be as relevant thousands of years hence. Also, these questions do not occur only in some cultures and not in others. All human beings confront such big questions of existence, regardless of their background.
With constant perusal and examination of these questions unfold the mysteries of the ultimate meaning of human existence, enlivening faith and providing us with a road to experience the source of which we are the rays.
The present education system does not focus on these questions. It primarily focuses on human beings as physical bodies and social beings with relations with the world around. Generally, when a child grows up he or she is admitted to a pre-primary school where he/she is taught basic alphabets, numerals, shapes, colours and names of objects etc.
At the primary level, the same child is taught about the country’s basic information, simple math, basic linguistic skills such as sentence making and word formation/breaking etc. At secondary or university level, the student is prepared to earn money and thus taught some more advanced subjects like science and mathematics etc. But nowhere in the whole education system is the student taught about his spiritual origin as to where he has come from and where to return after death and fundamentally who he is and what the purpose of life is.
However, these questions of ultimate significance rise in many human minds but the majority ignores them because of their over-involvement with the material world. People are constantly engaged in material activities and feel comfort in blindly following the ways of their forefathers. Yet some thoughtful people who take these questions seriously are led to the path of spirituality. They are curious with inquiring minds.
Once they realise their spiritual origin, they gain peace of mind and adopt an attitude of goodwill towards all humanity. They consider entire humanity as one, springing from a common origin therefore, deserving equal treatment and service. They identify their interests with humanity and the welfare of all living creatures becomes close to their hearts.
The Holy Quran refers to such people in many of its verses. For example, in verse 3:191, they implore “Our Lord! You have not created this without purpose”. They remember their origin and say: “...Truly! To Allah we belong and truly, to Him we shall return (2:156).”
The Creator wants us to think about Him through His signs, spread in the all-encompassing universe. He is the Creator and humanity must seek Him. This is the main objective of our life and that is why we are all here. It is His desire that we rely on and experience His strength, love, justice, holiness and compassion. So He says to all who are willing, “...I am indeed near. ... I respond to the invocations of the supplicant when he calls on Me. ... (2:186)”.
We may begin to pose these questions as we grow more curious about ourselves and our universe. We are led to reflect on the many puzzling mysteries of our existence, and whether it is possible to solve them.
Religious faith is not a cellar to which one can flee for safety to avoid stormy circumstances of life. It is, instead, an inner spiritual strength that allows us to deal with the many situations in life.
The writer is an educationist with an interest in religion.
Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2017