The Quest for Life's Meaning

The Real Purpose of Life
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The Favors of God upon us are such that He not only accepts them, but He returns them to us multiplied, in this life and the next

What is the meaning of life?

And how can you find it?

For centuries, people have complained that their life had no meaning and that it was filled with misery. The discussion and search for meaning has plagued philosophers.

I’m not a philosopher, but as a graduate of Shariah and as a therapist interested in how language affects the mind, I delve into this topic with the intent of exploration.

What Is Meaning?

Most dictionaries define ‘meaning’ as: “the meaning of the word”. This is a thoroughly useless definition, leaving us no closer to finding the answer. As the Arab saying goes, "that’s like defining water as water".

Sometimes dictionaries provide other definitions for the word ‘meaning’ but they are more like synonyms really. Some of them are as follows:

  • implied or explicit significance
  • value
  • purpose

It’s obvious from this quick exploration that the word meaning is mostly used to refer to the meaning of other words and that it doesn’t actually have a direct meaning in and of itself - how paradoxical!

So that’s what the dictionary says about meaning. Is there anything related to meaning in The Quran?

The word meaning isn’t actually used, but since we are exploring the word in reference to life and creation, the following ayah (verse) sheds light for us:

God says:

{And I did not Create the Jinn and the humans except to worship me.} (Adh-Dhariyat 51: 56)

The word “to” in this verse implies purpose and function, not meaning. So the function of humans is to worship God. God does not state meaning of life here, only function.

That is a very important distinction to make and one that sometimes behooves many who have used this same verse to explain ‘the meaning of life’. This verse only mentions the function of life, not its meaning.

I mentioned above that most dictionaries give synonyms of the word ‘meaning’ as definitions. Let’s ask questions, with those synonyms, related to the meaning of life:

Q. What is the significance of life?

A. The verse above doesn’t really give life itself any inherent significance. It gives the act of worship significance. We were created to worship God.

Q. What is the purpose of life?

A. The verse above makes that very clear: to worship God.

The Link between Depression and Meaningless Lives

This is why some people feel that their life has no meaning: they feel that it is worthless

When someone says that his/her life has no meaning, what does it mean?

It means that they feel they are of no significance, that they are of no value.

Notice how, in this example, the meaning of life is actually a measure of function and worth. But function and worth of what exactly?

Of you?

Or of creation at large?

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) teaches us:

"If, to Allah, the world were equal to a mosquito’s wing, then He would not allow the disbeliever to have a sip of water from it."  (At-Tirmidhi)

So all of creation, from the galaxies that we know to exist 450 billion light-years away (and beyond) to life on earth and our immediate geography... all of it is worth less to God than the worth of a mosquitoes’ wing to us.

This means that life in-and-of-itself has no real worth or value. This implies that if you derive your worth from that which is worthless, then you are worthless. This is why some people feel that their life has no meaning: they feel that it is worthless.

So we have uncovered two pitfalls:

1 - Thinking that life has meaning when it doesn’t. This fools people into trying to find that which doesn’t exist. Those that look for meaning keep looking forever because the meaning of life is not to be found. Their only salvation being the realization that meaning of life doesn’t exist.

2- Thinking that significance can be attained innately in and for this life.

Both are fallacies.

The Innate Value of Human Life

Does this imply that human life itself is of no value? No, for God says:

{And we have indeed elevated/dignified the children of Adam} (Al-Isra' 17:70)

So God has given us significance, but why then do people feel that they need to search for significance?

They have given up their innate significance by associating it to something insignificant, instead of associating their significance to the one who gave them significance to start with. That is the reason.

Life Is a Currency

Life is like money, it is but a currency. We may think that gold, silver, the US dollar, the Euro or a GB pound have value, but the reality is that you can not eat gold, you can not rub silver on your wound to heal it, the dollar won’t give you good advice, the euro won’t entertain you and the pound won’t keep you safe.

If no one was willing to accept your currency you would soon realize that it was worthless. This is the parable of life. It is in-and-of-itself innately worthless but used as a means of investment, as a currency with which you can buy that which is worthwhile, it begins to have function.

Let me remind you of the above verse:

{And I did not Create the Jinn and the humans except to worship me}

a person who states that his life has no meaning is closer to the truth than someone who is on a quest to find meaning

So that is the function and with function there is outcome. For those that realized the innate insignificance of this life and therefore used it as currency:

{Definitely, for the Muttaqeen (those who fear God), there will be a prize. Gardens and grapeyards.} (An-Naba’: 31-2)

And for those that tried to associate value to the valueless, the ramifications of which are transgression upon the rights of themselves, others and their Creator:

{Definitely, Hell is a place of ambush. A dwelling place for the transgressors. They will abide there as fuel. Nothing cool shall they taste therein, nor any drink. Except boiling water and dirty wound discharge.} (Al-Naba’: 21-5)

The outcome of the function is definitely innately valuable, be it positive as in the case of heaven or negative as in the case of Hell; in either case, there is definitely value.

It is important to note that a person who states that his life has no meaning is closer to the truth than someone who is on a quest to find meaning. Both of them being closer to the truth than someone who has deluded him or herself into thinking that this life is of inherent value.

Each of us has experienced the liberation in giving something of seeming value to charity or as zakat. The joy that comes therewith is because we, even if unwittingly, are reaffirming that this life is of no value and that we are not subject to it.

Unwittingly for most, we are severing the link between our value and the value (less-ness) of this life and reconnecting our value to the one that gave us it.

The Generosity of God

People only accept currency, even though it’s inherently worthless, because they can then use that currency to exchange it for something that is of worth. But why would God accept the currency of life?

Surely, God is not in need of this or any other type of currency?

The Favors of God upon us are such that He not only accepts them, but He returns them to us multiplied, in this life and the next.

Your value rests with your Creator.

Related Links:
Know Your Lord
Renew Your Life
Do You Worship God As Though You See Him?
Spirituality in the Current Discourse
Living a Happy Life with a Strong Faith (Folder)

AbdelRahman Mussa is the creator of the FREE tazkiyah consultation at www.iPersonalEnrichment.com, a site he founded to help Muslims take practical steps to purify their souls. He is a UK-based therapist and a graduate of Sharia… happily married with 2 children.

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