No Third Place to Go
Why are we here? This is a question that has always intrigued humanity. A satisfactory answer eludes the cleverest of philosophers. After much thinking the answer that comes out is, “Dismiss it. It doesn’t matter.” The answer speaks of a defeated mind.
The questioner may be dismissed, but a question of such fundamental order cannot be dismissed. It comes back. So, after some more brain-racking, the philosophers finally have an answer: “Make your life more meaningful.” What exactly does it mean? “Well,” comes the wise answer, “Do things useful, beginning with your own profession. Bring out the best in you. Put your heart in it. Do whatever you do with a flair of devotion, justice, and aesthetics. Give it a personal touch, to make it different from any other work of similar nature.”
Fine, but where is the answer to the question? It should be obvious – unless these fictitious ideas are planted in raw minds as universal truths (in which case it is not obvious) – that the objective behind the above talk is to make sure that you do not fail in your contribution to the society, state and nation. At the next level, it is meant to keep you busy and make you forget about the original question, “Why are we here?”
An architect’s design of a building, depicting ingenious creativity, serves the nation well, satisfying its sense of pride, and might also give some sense of satisfaction – at least for a while – to the architect himself. But, as he broods over his achievements, he is sure to end up, before rising for the next task, by asking himself, “Why am I here?”
The question has not been answered, and will not be answered anytime in future. Why? Because of a fundamental flaw. We cannot answer the question because we are not here following our choice. Had we chosen to be here, we could have said why we are here. But we did not choose to enter into this world. To this much, everybody gives merry assent. Merry assent? Why? Because, this takes the responsibility off, and offers some consolation for being victims. Victims? Yes, because every one above thirty (for previous generations it was forty, and after a few generations it will be twenty) feels that this life is too much trouble for pretty little pleasure. So, we are victims, and this in turn allows for arrogance: one reason – apart from many others – why a substantial element of human society – growing in number with time – has always been arrogant.
To continue on the main track, that we are not here by our choice, is acknowledged by all. But the suggestion that if we are not here by our choosing, then, simple and straightforward logic implies that we have been sent, is immediately and summarily rejected. Why? Because, to admit that we have been sent leads by implication to “Someone” who sent. But this Someone is unacceptable. Why? Because, this Someone then becomes the Master. But the arrogant will not submit themselves to any Master. So, logic is a good discipline of knowledge, but so far as it serves well. If it is taken to such absurdities – such as, humans have a Master, a Creator – then, either logic should be set aside, or its rules must be modified to meet with legitimate intellectual aspirations! Or, the Creator Himself should be modified to meet with human needs.
Here then is the reason why the question has not received an answer: arrogance. The Qur’an depicts this beautifully and precisely when it says in Surah al-‘Alaq, v. 6-7: “Nay! Man indeed, transgresses, because he thinks himself to be independent.” But he is not. He is entirely dependent: for his coming and for his going. When he goes, it will not be by his choice. And where he goes is not by his choice. He will return to Him who sent him. Hence the next verse of the passage, “Surely, unto thy Lord is the return.”
In the next logical step, we can conclude that He who sent man, should say why He sent him. Those who were sent, cannot answer the question. Those who refuse to acknowledge that they were sent, will ever remain clumsily stumbling in the dark alleys. They can have no peace. After every achievement, they are bound to ask themselves: “Why am I here?” They dismiss the question as irrelevant, because they have no answer, until a day arrives when, unable to contribute to the satisfaction of the lords of the lands, those who exploit them for their own ends, they will be set aside as once useful, but now useless old caps. It is then that they will not be able to shrug off the question. Without an answer, they will look back at life – and their achievements – with regret and frustration, and enter into a phase of despair, desolation and depression that they will take to their graves.
Now, among those who believe that they have been sent, and, therefore, life is not purposeless, also fail to answer the question to their own satisfaction. Why? It is because, although they acknowledge that the humans have a Creator and a Master, they seek the answer to the question “Why we are here,” not from Him, but from other than Him: those who represent Him; in other words, the priestly class. And the priestly class gives them different, although interesting answers. Some of them say, of course on the authority of God, that God has sent them to the earth in order that they should live in Jerusalem.
Those who oppose this face God’s ire for angering His chosen community (what it means to other than them is well understood), and so, will be slaughtered in time: and the time has arrived. That is, soon there will be slaughtering of those who will not accept to be the slaves of the Chosen People. Some others of the priestly communities proclaim something very near to the Jerusalemites. They too are a chosen people, and their “chosenness” will be emphatically demonstrated when God will send His son, to slaughter the unbelievers (including the Jerusalemites, but it is discreet to say it now). They too believe the time is ripe, and it could happen any time. Their “chosenness” will finally pay off in the Hereafter, when the Son of God will take them into Paradise, ignoring those that came into the world, before He came down as God’s son. Some others believe that humanity is in a vicious circle. Individuals go through several rounds to ultimately join the Supreme Being to become One with Him. If they fail, as is obviously the case with the multitudes, they will remain going round and round. There are others, who hold other, and equally interesting beliefs.
Thus we see that there are several explanations by those who believe in a Creator and a Master. But are they the answers to the question, “Why are we here?” Obviously not. They are promises that can be weighed in gems. But they are not answers to the particular question that has been troubling humanity, and without the right answer, human beings slump, after crossing a certain age, into regret, despair and depression.
This quandary is because, it is God’s representatives that are asked the question. They do not have the answer from Him. They give answers of their own. To get a clear and correct answer, we will have to be logical. We will have to ask the Sender Himself. Why did You send us here? But He is hidden. He does not talk to us. On the other hand, since the question is legitimate, to expect that He should answer the question is itself legitimate. That established, the next step in our deduction process is to find out whether He made any contact with us human beings? If so, what is it? When was it? Where is it? And, can it be trusted as His Communication?
If humanity can establish this, that is, locate a Communication that can be trusted as His Communication, then we shall have a direct answer from Him. This is how we arrive at the Qur’an. It states that it is from God. (No other Scripture claims this. It is priests who claim on its behalf. The writing itself does not). At all events, why should the humanity accept the Qur’anic statement as true? Well, here is the logic. It throws challenges – not one but several – addressing the humanity to falsify the statement. (Remember Popper’s observation about evolution?) In our case, prove it that it is Muhammad’s own production. Humanity can now relax. Humanity is confident of its own abilities. It likes challenges. We can travel to the stars, we can count the atoms in an invisible DNA chain, secretly housed in an invisible cell, we can say how many life organisms live in the darkness of ocean bottoms. Why can’t we prove that the Qur’an is not a direct Communication from the One who sent us here?
While those who grapple with the Qur’anic statement and its challenge, or – in their arrogance – decide to ignore, as if the Qur’an does not exist, as if the challenge is not there, and, as if they are not aware of the challenge, although they are, those who have made such an inquiry, and are left with no reason to reject the Communication as a genuine one, find that it is indeed stated in the Qur’an as to why humanity is here.Nevertheless, and although it is further elaborated, quite a few among the believers do not seem to understand the answer well enough. There is a feeling that the answer, to the effect that man is under trial here, implies that man has unnecessarily been exposed to trouble. (Remember the love for “victim” theory). That is, they take the term “trial” in the sense of “tribulation.” We offer the following lines in clarification.
Allah is testing Man not in order to make him suffer one heartache after another, but in order to qualify him for Paradise. The first man in heaven committed an error. In consequence, he lost the properties necessary for residence in Paradise. Paradise is designed for the sin-less. (Sinless is not one who does not sin. Sinless is one who does not think of sinning). No one, with the most minor sin, and its effect on body, mind and soul, will ever enter Paradise, until he is cleansed either in Hell, or through a spiritual operation called forgiveness.
The above is the reason why angels are able to live in the Heavens. They are sinless (in the sense the term is defined above). Our Prophet visited the Heavens. He was able to, because he was sinless. In addition, his chest was opened just before the journey, impurity removed from his heart, and he was fully cleansed before the journey. Reports say that martyrs are in the form of green birds in Paradise under the ‘Arsh. Why? Because, the Prophet has informed us that the sins of a martyr are forgiven before the first drop of his blood reaches the ground. It is also reported that Muslim children are in Paradise in the form of birds. We know the reason why.
The first man who committed the error (may Allah show him peace), underwent such physical and spiritual transformations that rendered him ill-adapted to live and survive in Paradise. Just like a fish. If it undergoes such modifications as removal of certain glands and replacement with those of say, mammals, it becomes disqualified to live in water. It must leave water and reside on the land. If it enters water, it will die out. Similarly, man cannot survive in Paradise anymore unless he undergoes modifications in his mental, moral and spiritual properties to become, once again, what he was in Paradise before he committed the sin. If he entered into Paradise without such modifications, he might die once he steps into it.
The test Man is put to, therefore, is not in the sense of tribulation, nor does it consist in Allah trying to find out who qualifies and who does not. He knows all. But rather, the “test” is in the sense of an examination to reveal to a person where he belongs.
We may strike an example. When you wish to drive a car, you are asked to obtain a license. Without the license you do not have the right to be in the driver’s seat. To obtain a license, you are subjected to various tests. One of them, for example, is an eye test. No blind man, or near blind, or defective of sight will be allowed to enter the streets. Therefore, you undergo an eye-test as also several other tests. This is not a punishment from the authorities. But rather, they know the kind of traffic that there is in the streets. They know who can enter the streets with a car, and who cannot be allowed to do so. So you undergo the tests. If you fail, you cannot be allowed to come into the street. You will cause havoc.
Similarly, a sinful, spiritually blind, unrepentant man, bearing base qualities cannot be allowed into the world of bliss called Paradise. He is not qualified. He lacks the necessary physical and spiritual requirements. If allowed to enter in his corrupt state, he might immediately die, just like a land animal in water. Or like an earthly man on Mars: he will choke to death because of the nitrogen atmosphere. Or, if he is allowed into Paradise, he will create havoc there.
For him to survive in Heaven, Heaven itself will have to be modified. It might have to be modified to something like what the earth is. Understandably, if that is done, the criminals will turn Paradise into Hell for the purified sinless men and women, just as they have created Hell on earth for pious men and women. Reports say that the one entering last and receiving the lowest share of Paradise, will receive ten times this earth and more. Can you imagine the chaos he will spread, if he is a corrupt person, is given complete freedom over his territory, and has eternal life before him?
So, the qualification test is necessary to determine who should be allowed in, and who will simply not survive in that different world. To understand this aspect, i.e., the ability to enter into Paradise and be fit to live therein, is crucial. This cleansing is so important that even the earth on which the people will be assembled for judgment will be cleansed. Reports say that Allah will create a new earth, on which no sin would have been committed, on which mankind will be assembled for Reckoning.
Mankind’s cleansing, and their ability is so important, that according to the hadith, all those who pass through several tests in the Hereafter, and finally arrive at the gates of Paradise, will yet have to undergo three modifications before they are fit enough to enter in, and not die out as a result thereof. First, another cleansing will take place by way of retribution. That is, among those who would have otherwise qualified to enter, if there remains any wrong unsettled between them, they will be asked to exchange good or bad deeds among themselves.
Every trace of every wrong done, by every individual, will be removed, and everyone will thus emerge pure and cleansed. That over, they will have to, secondly, take a bath from a spring at the gate to Paradise. That will cleanse them physically, outwardly. Thereafter, they will drink from another spring at the gate. That will physically, inwardly cleanse them, transforming them into beings of right properties to live in Paradise, as fish in water. Now it is that they will be allowed to proceed through the gate.
Now, whether Allah knows beforehand about a certain man’s fitness for Hell or for Paradise, is immaterial. That is another issue altogether. The issue here is whether a certain man is fit for Hell or for Paradise. He takes the test in this life and has a lifetime to attain purity. If he qualifies he earns the license to enter into Paradise. If he fails, he goes to Hell. There is no third place to go.