Video Lecture by: Dr. Lang, Mathematics Professor at Utah University, who converted to Islam after reading Quran.
For more posts related to learning the purpose of our lives, and why this essential topic is deliberately omitted/ignored in our Western education, and the serious implications of this for the way we live, see “Learn Who You Are!” and “PP1: The First Principle of Pedagogy“. Below we provide an outline and summary of the lecture by Dr Lang:
Following highlights and summary of lecture prepared by Maaz Javed: PIDE Student
When someone wants to know about another religion then the first thing that comes in mind is question about the views of that religion regarding to purpose of life or our existence.
Questions Raised in Minds of People before being Atheist:
It enforces skepticism of a person when it comes in mind that why world is dominated by random, consuming, undiscriminating violence, when he saw the senseless carnage of Vietnam, why did not God spare us all the sufferings, why did he make us so susceptible to sin why didn’t He make us impervious to it?
Is this the most perfect world He could create for our existence?
Same question is raised as that of atheist in Quran in Surah Al-Baqarah verse 30.
‘Behold your Lord, said to the angels: I’m going to place a vice (Khalifa) on earth and Angels said will You place the one who will spread corruption and shed blood while we (angels) celebrate your praises and glorify you?’
‘Why would God create this being, supposedly for some positive role, when he is capable of doing tremendous wrongdoing?’
Answer to these Questions:
God answered to Angels: ‘Truly I know that you don’t know.’
Next verse says, ‘God taught Adam the names of all things and then He placed them before angels and said tell me their names if you are right.’
Angels: ‘Glory to God, we have no knowledge except what you have taught us. In truth it is you are knowing the wise.’
God: ‘O Adam tell them the names and Adam told all the names and God said did I not tell you that I know what is unseen in the heaven and earth and I know what you reveal and conceal.’
So the Quran is saying that God taught man by Himself and man is learning and intellectual creature. God was taking one of the great stories in history of mankind and using it as a vehicle for an entirely original message. Human beings can do huge evil, can do wrong, can create misery but they can also do exactly the opposite. They can choose to choose evil but also can choose to do tremendous good, compassion, can be terribly ugly but can also be terrible beautiful.
Next verse: ‘We said to angels to bow down to Adam and they bow down but not so Ibless (satan), he refused and was arrogant, he was of those who reject faith. And notice why Iblees does not bow down because he refuses as he was arrogant’.
Bowing down can symbolize two things: Superiority or potential superiority of one being over another and can also mean that they serve that creature in some respect. Angelic and Satanic forces will be catalyst for those moral choices that they make. They will heighten the human beings awareness of the rightfulness and wrongfulness of choices, he is about to make. The soul (nafs) will have to make the ultimate choice between good and evil.
In west it is asked what is the root of all evils and it comes out that it is all about money, greed etc. Quran says that root of all evils is not always material wants but at heart of evil there is arrogance putting yourself above all others. So on one hand we hand magnanimous urging comes from one direction and on other hand we have satanic urgings coming from other direction so man is not only learning but also moral creature.
‘By the soul that which whispers into it its morality, its immorality and its God consciousness. Truly he is successful who causes it (soul) to grow and truly he is lost who stunts it.’
God creates us to be exposed to both influences, evil and good.
‘Oh Adam, dwell you and your spouse in the garden and it freely there is what you wish but come not near this tree for then you will be among the wrongdoers.’
It was actually an ordinary tree but Satan later come to Adam and tell him its tree of eternal life of a kingdom that never decays. It turns out to be if there was truly such power in tree then God should be frightened and ordered angels to guard the tree because if Adam eat from it then they will become God. But God just calmly said to Adam if you eat from that tree you’ll be among wrongdoers. God was not worried about itself but just making them clear that if you do this you would commit wrongful deed. God know exactly what He was doing.
‘But Satan cause them to slip and expelled them from the state in which they were. And We said go you all down, some of you being the enemies of others, and earth will be your dwelling place and provision for a time.’
Now it was expected there will be rage, violence, anger and jealousy as Adam eat from the tree. It was expecting God will punish in hard way, stub their toe, make them suffer, and will die in this. And women, she’s the one who will suffer the most, labor pains and greatest humiliation will be the man will rule over her. When man is obviously intellectually inferior because she was seduced by Satan and commit the wrong deed. But in actual the story is entirely different. The greatest sin in the history of human race is called a ‘Slip’ due to Satan. It was just as someone loses the focus for some time and not a big deal. It may be the ‘Slip’ in actual after all they did not commit murder, robbery, pillaging, assault but they just eat couple of fruits. We see that God originally intended to put man on earth as his vice and for it we see period of preparation where he’s being prepared intellectually and growing as moral creature. When God finally put man on earth, it was due man’s first independent choice. It showed that mankind was ready to act on his own but God has empowered him to make choices and he was ready.
‘Adam received words from his Lord and God turned to him mercifully, forgot his off returning ever merciful.’
If there was any doubt up till now, that God is not enraged by what this has happened, is gone but all this was preparation for mankind to begin his earthly sojourn.
‘Go down Adam from this state all of you together and truly there will come to you guidance from me and whoever follows my guidance has nothing to fear nor shall they grieve.’
The couple was feeling remorse and God reaches out to them and tells them nothing to fear. I know this is tough for you but you’ve prepared for it up till now through your entire existence. It had to happen as this is the necessary stage in your development but just hang in there, follow my guidance, be true to me and I’ll be true to you.
Most emphasized things: Intellectual, Choice and Sufferings.
These three things play a central role in our development on earth and are very purpose of our development.
Does Quran really emphasize reason as essential to human growth?
Yes. Even western orientalists, people who wrote against the Quran, agree on this. Quran is not far from considering unbelief as an infirmity of the human mind. Rational tone of the Quran is one of its most salient feature beyond doubt.
Consider the following statements from Quran about logic and reasoning.
‘People ignore or reject God science and corrupt religion precisely because they do not use their reason.’
‘In Quran there are signs and lessons for those who are wise.’
‘Similarly Quran says about disbelievers who refuse to reason.’
‘Quran says perhaps you will finally use your reason.’
‘God teaches humanity both directly and indirectly and thumbs sometimes so subtly that we are unaware of His instructions thus He test us in multifarious ways.’
‘From viewpoint of Quran reasons and faith are allies just as logic and false belief are allies.’
‘Similarly, Quran mentions those who benefit most from Quran are persons of insights.’
‘Quran is firmly rooted in knowledge.’
And such statements goes on and on.
So Quran really does put great emphasis on reason and on our spiritual quest.
- Emphasis on Choice:
‘Let there be no compulsion in religion, the right way is henceforth clear from error’
It’s a choice between correctness and falsity.
‘Do no the unbelievers know that had God willed He could indeed guide you all mankind. Do the believers know that had God willed he could have guided all mankind. And if we had so willed we could have given every soul its guidance.’
Why did God let us creature of choice? Just program us to do the right thing and not to make a wrong choice.
‘If God had willed He could have made us all one community.’
‘Enlightenment has come from your Lord. He who sees so to his own good he who is blind is so to his own hurt.’
‘Whoever is guided is only to his own gain and whoever is stray I am only a warner.’
‘Revealed to you the book with the truth for mankind who lets himself be guided does so is for his own good and he who goes astray it’s his own hurt’
So, it is clear from above verses that Choice plays a key role in development of human soul.
Every religion deals with suffering in a different way. Like something have to be saved from and some religion stress salvation or if it’s something that have to be transcend through meditation to not feel it. Some religion sees suffering as primarily punishment while some sees it as result of precarious control of many gods working against each other. But all of the religions consider suffering as not a good thing. But Quran says just the opposite. It says to human beings that you are going to suffer in this life but it will play fundamental role in your development as mentioned in following verses.
‘We will try you in something of danger and hunger and loss of wordly goods, with a loss of your lives and fruits of your labor. Most assuredly We will try you. But there is good news and be happy for those who are patient in adversity and suffering. When calamity befalls them they say truly unto God we belong and truly unto Him we shall return.’
‘Do you think that you could enter paradise without having the like of those who passed away before you. Misfortune and hard should be found them and so shaken are they the believers with him exclaim when will God’s help come.’
‘You will certainly be tried in your possessions. Every soul must taste of death and we try you with calamity and prosperity, both as means of trial and to Us you are returned.’
‘We certainly created man to face the stress.’
‘Does he think that no one sees him. Have We not given him the two eyes to see, a tongue and two lips to communicate with.’
It is not just talking about evil people but about good people too. So, the environment of world is made to be where we have to work and struggle and plays a key role. We cannot attain the faith until struggle. We should pursue the uphill climb which means reaching out your fellow man who suffers. We have to learn the wisdom in the book and revelation.
‘We have sent among you of yourself a messenger to recite our signs to you and to cause you to grow. Truly God was gracious to the believers.’
So the purpose, somehow, is to grow. When we came into the world this was actually the stage of our creation.
Quran on Purpose of Life:
‘Those who remember God in standing and sitting and lying down and reflect upon the creations of the heaven and earth and say that, Our Lord! You did not create all this in vain.’
‘We have not created heaven and earth and whatever is between them in play. If we wish to take a sport we could have done it by ourselves.’
God has created us to be believers. The ultimate that they are supposed to get is when they want to experience the relationship of love with God they will turn to God in love and God will turn to them in love. When Quran speaks of God’s love we would normally think of that as God’s love but actually it’s talking about something very special. Here love is presented as relationship between God and man. If we don’t turn to God in love then we will not get His mercy, forgiveness, kindness, beneficence, warmth and generosity but not love. This love is always there for us but unless we enter into that relationship that love never develops. The potential purpose of creation is may be to produce subset of humanity that will freely enter a relationship of love with God.
But then what is the purpose of all three factor (intellect, choice and sacrifice) in human life?
Now the natural thing to do is to study two partners in this relationship.
What are the good deeds according to Quran?
Good attributes according to Quran are,
- Protect the weak /defend the oppressed.
- Seek Knowledge and wisdom.
‘Truly those who believe and do good will the most merciful and endow with love and to this end We have made this scripture easy to understand in your own tongue so that you might convey a glad tiding to the God conscious and warn those given to contention.’
What does Quran tells us about God?
Quran tells us about God that nothing could be compare to Him. He is outside of anything that we may compare to Him. Our definitions don’t encompass Him. He is transcendent and we are finite. He transcends time and space and we are bound by it. He is immortal and we are mortal. So, there is no to compare ourselves to Him.
It seems that Quran says that we could never really understands God. But in the beginning of every Surah there is introduction of God in Bismil’lah i.e. God is merciful and most compassionate. God is forgiving and gentle. God is the kind and the generous. God is truthful. So there are ten of thousands of such references in the statements in Quran. Quran defines God’s most beautiful name and is repeated on almost every page His attributes of perfection which are God is the compassion, God is the mercy, forgiving, Just, protector, defendant of the oppressed, the knowing, the wise, the generous, the truthful, the loving, the peaceful and so on. So, every attributes that human beings are supposed to develop are infinitely present in God.
How to make relation to God?
We are here to develop a relationship with God but how can we make relation with God when He is transcendent and we are finite, when He is immortal and we are mortal, when He is unbound by time and space and we are, and so forth and so on.
If one person wants to be get close to other he needs to work on common attributes.
How can one become close to God? What can we share with Him?
We share with Him what He exactly gave us because the Quran tells us that when we were came into this life He breathes into our spirits something of His spirit. So the more we possess the above mentioned attributes those are also attributes of God but in infinites amount the more can we come close to God. The more we grow compassion, the more we grow in our ability to receive and experience the compassion from God and similar is true for truthfulness, justness, kindness and other attributes. It’s a convergence of essential beings.
Analogy: Let’s pretend I have a dog, a goldfish and three daughters. No matter how much my love, compassion, forgiveness, caring I pour upon goldfish it could only experience it to tiny degree while dog will experience it to much higher degree than goldfish. But my daughter, especially as they grow older can experience my being to much higher degree than my dog and goldfish.
But why we have to experience Intellect, Choice and Sufferings?
We are creatures and we grow and we can become anything He want. But we can’t contain any of the attributes that were listed above without Intellect, Choice and Suffering. And all three of these are definitely essential. For example, if we program any computer then we can’t say that its truthful. For this it is necessary for human beings to go through these three things. Because all those attributes (compassion, truth, forgiveness, etc.) are born out of Choice, Intellect and Suffering.
Why Quran talks about Sin as self-destruction?
Quran says when we sin we destroy ourselves. When we grow in very opposite of good attributes then we will be destroying our nature and not allowing ourselves to receive and experience the beauty that could be in store for us in this life and the next. It’s just like coming into this world and developing in the womb none of the physical things that are needed to experience the comfort and joy on a physical level in this life. So, if we don’t develop needed attributes to make relationship with God then we will experience terrible suffering in this life. When Quran is talking about heaven and hell it is essentially telling us we must imagine greatest joy, peace and serenity on the on end but on the other end imagine the most terrible suffering.
God says in Quran,
‘I did not harm you in the least but you destroyed yourself.’