By Belinda F. Espiritu, New Age Islam
08 June, 2015
Since time immemorial and everywhere in this planet, humans have grappled with the existential need to understand the grand scheme of things which can explain the existence of this world and the meaning and purpose of human life. They have also dreamed, sought, and tried in vain to build an ideal world where there is perfect peace, harmony, and prosperity. The reality is that throughout human history, humans have experienced and witnessed evil and suffering of various kinds. Edward Gibbon, the famous historian, observed that human history is “little more than a record of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind”. Other historians have also observed that the ideal existence is nowhere present in human societies.
Philosophers have sought to understand the grand scheme of things for the existence of this imperfect world where humans live and die none of whom is exempt from pain, sickness, and suffering. But the understanding of this world and of human life can only be fully understood in the light of the creation plan of God, the Supreme Being who created all things for His purpose. It is for this reason that this essay aims to discuss MaulanaWahiduddin Khan’s explanation of the creation plan of God and the purpose of life in the light of Quranic verses and to make a comparative analysis of his explanation with the Christian writings on the same topic. Thus, Islamic and Christian explanations of the Creation plan of God will be described and placed side by side with each other to find convergences or divergences towards a fuller and well-rounded explanation of the creation plan of God.
MaulanaWahiduddin Khan on the Creation Plan of God and the Purpose of Life
MaulanaWahiduddin Khan, a noted Islamic teacher and a peace advocate who founded the Center for Peace and Spirituality in New Delhi, India, wrote more than a dozen books including The Creation of God and The Purpose of Life.
The creation of this world and all humans in it has been explained by MaulanaWahiduddin Khan in the light of Quranic verses in relation to human freedom and the building of the ideal individuals, not the ideal society. For a proper understanding of human society, the central idea is not the ideal society but human freedom. Humans have been granted freedom of speech and action for the purpose of being tested, and as prerequisite to this, they are at liberty to deny God, to kill the prophets, and to oppose the messengers of truth.
According to the Creation plan of God, what is of actual importance to this world is the building of the ideal individuals, not ideal society. The ideal human society will come into this existence not in this world but in the hereafter, referred to in the Qur’an as Darus Salam (the Home of Peace). The ideal human society is impossible to be built in this present world because of the presence everywhere of insolent and rebellious people. In the Hereafter, all such insolent, wicked people will be separated from the virtuous ones; thus, it will be possible to build the heavenly, perfect, ideal society.
It is thus an error for secular philosophers to desire to think and desire to build the ideal society in this world because according to God’s scheme of things, this ideal society will only become a reality in the world of the Hereafter. Human freedom is the most formidable obstacle to the building of the ideal society since humans can choose to commit between good and evil, and many have chosen to commit evil than good. The ideal society will thus remain a distant dream in this world.
The wicked, unworthy individuals have never ceased to create disturbance and dissension in society. This is still according to the Creation plan of God, for good people of the highest caliber are produced in unfavorable rather than favorable circumstances. Born to an existence fraught with toil and strife (90:4), humans have no choice but to lead lives marred by trial and tribulation, opposition and enmity till the coming of Doomsday. But this human condition has not come about by accident; it is in accord with the divine scheme of things. God has created this world in order to select worthy inhabitants of paradise, who are invariably produced under abnormal rather than normal circumstances. But the help of God is ever near for those who are being tested through affliction and adversity (2:214).
In this world, what is desirable to God is not the ideal society but the ideal human being. Such individuals are produced in conditions of severe affliction and not in normal, peaceful circumstances. In the words of Maulana Khan:
He gives his approval to human beings whose faith remains unshaken even
in the face of severe problems and dire adversity; whose hearts, even when
they are subjected to all manner of persecution, are untainted by negative
sentiments; who when threated with calamity, do not lose heart, but undergo
such a process of brainstorming as will lead to their intellectual development;
who even when faced with such untoward events as are likely to divert them
from the Straight Path, remain staunch in their faith in God; who feel the great
tumult of the awakening of spirituality in their hearts, bringing the closer to
God (p. 11).
The ideal human beings face darkness in this world so they may live in the eternal light of the Hereafter. They patiently bear the deprivation of the comforts and pleasures of this world, so that they may be entitled to a place in the eternal Paradise of heavenly bliss. It is only in the jungle of adversity that such souls can emerge; there is no other breeding ground. Social evils are training grounds devised by the Creator to produce human beings of great moral and spiritual character. This explains why in every period of human history, humankind has been faced with all manner of conflict and dissension.
Human life is divided into the pre-death stage and the post-death stage. The pre-death stage, says Maulana Khan, is that of the journey and the post-death stage is that of arriving at the destination of the journey. The life after death tells that humans are eternal creatures. The clear clues for the post-death life are human beings’ concepts of justice and tomorrow. With the concept of justice, humans desire that doers of good should be rewarded for their good deeds and evil-doers should be made to suffer the consequences of their evil deeds. With the concept of tomorrow, humans discover the reality that the desired world which they fail to find in the present limited world, will be found in the post-death period, which is the unlimited stage of life where they can experience fulfillment in the full sense.
The formula for being held worthy of this ideal world in the Hereafter is purification of the soul. Those who wholeheartedly choose the God-oriented life are the people who will inhabit the ideal world of the future. This pre-death life is a period of temporary testing and preparation for the ideal world which is eternal. The test is of human beings’ acknowledgement of God’s greatness in every occasion and of their exercise of virtue in every occasion such as the exercise of justice, of subjugation of emotions and desires to principles, and of adherence to logical reason and truth. Those who lived in the world with nobility of character and used their freedom according to God’s will be selected to inhabit the Gardens of Paradise; while those who failed to demonstrate nobility of character will be sent to the universal dustbin where they will suffer endless regret and frustration.
Comparative Analysis of MaulanaWahiduddin Khan’s Explanation with Christian Writings on the Creation Plan and the Purpose of Life
John MacArthur, in his essay entitled “God, Government, and the Gospel” (2009), avers that the end-times theology taught in evangelical Christianity tells that until Christ returns, “nothing can or will fix this crumbling world system” (p, 122) and that rather than concentrating on political issues and debates, believers should be consumed with their responsibility as Christ’s ambassadors. This is similar to Maulana Khan’s explanation of the impossibility of achieving an ideal society in the present life because of human freedom and those who chose to be insolent and rebellious. Humans need to concern themselves with living a God-oriented life whereby they are able to acknowledge the greatness of God in every occasion, demonstrate nobility of character, and exercise human freedom according to God’s will.
For Christians, however, only the gospel, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can effect real change in society – since it transforms sinners from the inside out. Similarities between Maulana Khan’s thoughts and the Christian teachings, particularly as propounded by John MacArthur, a renowned evangelical pastor, can be found in what the latter wrote: “Instead of political activism, a far better strategy for Christians is to focus on being faithful to what God has actually called them to do within their own sphere of influence – exalting the Savior…..encouraging the saints…..evangelizing the lost…..and exhibiting godly conduct” (p. 125). MacArthur posits that national and international affairs can be entrusted to God who is sovereign over all the affairs of this world. For MacArthur, politics and social activism are not the answer in balancing the priority of God’s kingdom with the desire to be good citizens on earth but rather submission to authority and paying taxes. Beyond these, believers should focus on those things that are of eternal value, similar to what MaulanaWahiduddin Khan explained on humans being worthy to be selected as inhabitants of the Gardens of Paradise.
Similar to Maulana Khan’s writing, MacArthur explained that believers must not forget that though they currently dwell in their countries of nationality, their true citizenship is in heaven. They are in the world, but not of the world. Their ultimate allegiance is to God. They live for eternal matters, operating with a wholly different set of priorities than those in the world around them. Though they now reside in an earthly kingdom, their resources and efforts are primarily focused on advancing the work of an eternal kingdom (cf. Matthew 6:33). Their identity, priorities, and mission are not defined by their citizenship on earth, but in heaven, where their Savior awaits and their fellow countrymen dwell. Believers should focus on spiritual pursuits rather than political ones to live in a way that is consistent with their true citizenship. They must remember that their allegiance is first in heaven and only second to their earthly government. When Christ returns, He will establish His kingdom, the perfect government in which He will rule with absolute equity and justice. Believers will have the joy of participating in His flawless and incorruptible administration and reign with Him forever.
The idea that earthly life is a test and preparation for the life in the Hereafter rings true in both the writings of MaulanaWahiduddin Khan and evangelical Christians like Rick Warren who wrote the best seller book The Purpose Driven Life (2002). Maulana Khan explained that this life is a test and that there are invisible angels recording human beings’ deeds at every moment, and it is on the basis of this test that the future of every human being will be decided. Rick Warren, on the other hand, wrote that the metaphor “life is a test” is seen in stories throughout the Bible. God tested Job’s faith and loyalty to Him when He allowed Satan to cause to befall on him tragedy after tragedy such as the loss of his properties and all his children. God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his beloved son (Ishmael for Muslims but Isaac for Christians). God tested Joseph by letting him suffer unjustly in the hands of his brothers and his Egyptian master Potiphar. This testing is not only true for biblical figures but also for all believers whom He continually tests for their character, faith, obedience, love, integrity, and loyalty. Warren (2002) wrote that character is both developed and revealed by tests, and all of life is a test. God constantly watches our response to people, problems, conflict, illness, disappointment, and even the weather. Similar to what Maulana Khan wrote, Warren explained that God tests people through adversity and affliction such as major changes, impossible problems, delayed promises, unanswered prayers, undeserved criticism, and even senseless tragedies (p. 28).
The idea of producing individuals of great moral and spiritual character through the adversity and affliction in this world rings true in both Maulana Khan’s writings and the writings of Christian writers like Rick Warren, Oswald Chambers, Watchman Nee, Nathan Busenitz, and many others. An ideal individual also exercises nobility of character and justice towards others. Warren wrote that one purpose of life is to serve God through loving service to others. Regardless of one’s job or career, each is called to full time service. Anytime the believers use their God-given talents to help others, they are fulfilling their calling to serve God. This leads to the final purpose in life which is to fulfill the mission God called us to do: to evangelize the lost, rescue the sinners, and bring them to God’s fold.
What is the end of all these testing, preparation, service, and fulfillment of mission in this world? Maulana Khan wrote that the ideal persons produced by the testing in this world will inhabit the Gardens of Paradise, the ideal world which cannot be realized in the present world. For Christians, the end goal is the building of the New Jerusalem and the recreation of the present world into a new heaven and a new earth, a brand-new universe that will be free from every single taint of sin and curse. The New Jerusalem is the eternal state of the redeemed, the ideal individuals shining with great moral and spiritual character, participating in God’s own holiness. In the New Jerusalem, there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Revelations 21:4). Life now is hard but eternity is coming where there will be relief for all suffering. Furthermore, the New Jerusalem, the Holy City of God, will not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light.
Finally, the present life of testing and preparation for the next life is to be endured with courage and hope in anticipation of the ideal world in the post-death stage. Thus, it can be said with Paul, the early Christian writer and disciple of Christ, and with MaulanaWahiduddin Khan and his teachings, that the present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in all those who choose to use their freedom according to God’s will and to practice nobility of character in this life, serving God through loving service to others and fulfilling their mission to rescue those who are perishing.
Dr. Belinda F. Espiritu is an associate professor of communication and is currently the Coordinator of the Mass Communication Program of the University of the Philippines Cebu. She has done research on Christian-Muslim relations in Manila, Philippines and is interested in the study of communication, religion, spirituality, development studies, peace studies, and democratic participation using new media.