Ethics 3.1 Purpose of Life and Justice in the Sharī’ah
This series of articles explores Muslim views on conflict and suffering. It looks at how Muslim attitudes to conflict and peace are influenced by their beliefs. The Islamic teachings about the purpose of life, justice, reconciliation and peace are important. These teachings help us to gain a better understanding of Muslim views on war conflict and peace.
The purpose of life: The purpose of life for mankind as Allah has stated is: “I did not create the Jinn and mankind except that they should worship me alone.” So the purpose of life for a Muslim is “to worship and obey Allah.” To understand this fully, we need to consider Muslim beliefs about the relationship between Allah and human beings. The word Islam in Arabic means: “To submit to Allah alone in worship, to yield to him in obedience and to reject idolatry.”
A Muslim is someone who has submitted himself (or herself) to the will of Allah. This will is the commandments of Allah and has been revealed through the noble Qur’an and the Sunnah of Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).
Throughout their life, a Muslim should always be conscious of Allah and their responsibility to Him. Having awareness of one’s duty to Allah and fear of Him is known as Taqwa. It is compared to walking through thorns in a forest and being careful not to tear one’s clothing. As a Muslim lives their life they should be aware that all they do is for Allah and nothing exists except by His will. Obedience to Allah and avoiding temptation (and sins) is essential because Allah knows everything, and one cannot hide from His sight and knowledge.
The main purpose of life for a Muslim is to worship Allah (Tawheed of ibādah). In Islam, this means to understand Tawheed and to know what violates it. A Muslim is to obey Allah in what He has commanded, and especially the Five Pillars. This life is a test and when it is over the body will wait in the grave, and feel its reward or punishment until the Day of Judgment.
Everyone will be resurrected and Allah will fairly judge each person’s actions and intentions during their life on earth. The permanent afterlife will be spent in either a wonderful Paradise or in eternal suffering in Hell. For Muslims, this life is meaningful and has a purpose because it will determine where they spend the afterlife.
Allah said: “We shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or fruits and crops – but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere – who say, when afflicted with calamity, ‘To Allah we belong, and to Him is our return.’” (2:155-156)
Allah said in a hadith Qudsi: “I have forbidden injustice for Myself and also forbidden it for you. So avoid being unjust to one another.” Allah said in the Qur’an:
لَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا رُسُلَنَا بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ وَأَنزَلْنَا مَعَهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْمِيزَانَ لِيَقُومَ النَّاسُ بِالْقِسْطِ ۖ وَأَنزَلْنَا الْحَدِيدَ فِيهِ بَأْسٌ شَدِيدٌ وَمَنَافِعُ لِلنَّاسِ وَلِيَعْلَمَ اللَّهُ مَن يَنصُرُهُ وَرُسُلَهُ بِالْغَيْبِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ قَوِيٌّ عَزِيزٌ – 57:25
“Indeed We have sent Our Messengers with clear proofs, and revealed with them the Scripture and the Balance (justice) that mankind may keep up justice. And We brought forth iron wherein is mighty power (in matters of war), as well as many benefits for mankind, that Allah may test who it is that will help Him (His religion), and His Messengers in the unseen. Verily, Allah is All-Strong, All-Mighty.”
Justice is the concept of right and fair actions based on just laws. Where there is justice there can be harmony and peace between people. In Islam justice is a supreme virtue. This means that it is a good moral quality that Muslims must embrace. The Qur’an makes clear that Allah expects people and nations to treat each other with goodness, compassion and justice in all aspects of life. It makes clear that justice is a duty and injustice is against the legislative will of Allah.
Achieving justice is not easy. Allah has given human beings the responsibility to bring about justice upon the earth. The Qur’an explains that Allah has sent His Prophets and laws to help people understand how to achieve justice. These revelations give guidance on many aspects of justice. For example, treatment of the poor, widows, criminals and enemies. Muslims are expected to unite against injustice and put things right in accordance to the Qur’an and Sunnah. It is wrong to ignore injustice and the suffering of innocents. In the case of the law, victims have a right to be compensated by the wrongdoer, and the criminal is punished as a purification for his bad deeds and as a deterrent for others.
If societies are to be fair and just, every individual has to contribute according to their ability and role. Muslims believe that they must live their lives correctly. They follow the code of behaviour known as the Sharī’ah – the path, the Law. This gives guidelines that help Muslims judge behaviour and conduct. The laws help to determine what is halāl (allowed and permitted) and what is harām (prohibited). Muslims believe that if all people followed the will of Allah that He legislated (i.e. the Sharī’ah) then justice would be achieved for everyone.
- Describe what Muslims believe about the purpose of life.
- Believing in afterlife scares people into being good. Do you think this fear is healthy?
- Explain what is meant by the term justice.
- How are Muslims guided by their faith to bring about justice?
- Is the achievement of justice possible? Explain.