One of the major questions that any person asks when exploring the subject of life and religion in general is the ‘why are we here’ question.
Some people have claimed that if there is an afterlife and reward/punishment, then God is unfair since He is judging people who may not have wanted to be created or placed on Earth in the first place. Others have made claim that God is simply amusing Himself with our creation and then He gets to see us burn or move on to paradise like some characters in a video game. Others have taken an altogether different view and have claimed that we are here as the result of some intergalactic war/feud between God and Satan that took place eons ago and that Earth is the prison for Satan and his followers to redeem themselves back to the graces of the Almighty!
As is usual when confronting any subject where we may not have all the answers, the best source to turn to for the absolute truth is God’s Scripture – the Quran.
In The Beginning
Our entire story begins here on Earth many millions of years ago where humankind were just another part of the ecological system having developed (as all creatures had) from the primordial soup of tiny microbes contained within the life giving waters, which, when mixed with the earth, began the evolution of life.
“And God created every moving creature from water. So some of them move on their bellies, and some walk on two legs, and some walk on four. God creates whatever He wills. God is capable of all things.” (24:45)
Fossil of 375 million year old fish providing the first evidence of evolution from water based animals to land based animals (see link for more details)
Species evolved, some became smarter, some became faster, and some simply became extinct.
“We have created mankind from a structure derived from mud.” (23:12)
“And God made you grow from the Earth as plants. Then He returns you to it, and He brings you out totally?” (71:17-18)
The evolution of man
Humankind developed as did millions of other creatures, each with its own distinct characteristics, developing and evolving based on the conditions that nature presented. Some, like mankind, developed into two legged creatures, while others came to walk on all fours, while others were set to crawl on their bellies.
An Offer Made
“We have offered the trust to the heavens and the Earth, and the mountains, but they refused to bear it, and were fearful of it. But the human being accepted it; he was transgressing, ignorant.” (33:72)
The most significant event to occur in the history of our species was the acceptance of “the trust” which God offered to the land, the sky, and select inhabitants of Earth. This issue is mulled over quickly by most commentators and researchers of the Quran, however, it provides the key in answering the questions that are asked of life and our mission on Earth.
God is telling us in the clearest terms that an offer was made which humanity accepted. Apparently, by reading through further we can see that it was not one person or a small group of people who made the decision to accept, but rather it was all the souls that will ever come into being (every single one of us) that made this choice collectively.
“And your Lord took for the children of Adam from their backs, their progeny; and He made them witness over themselves: “Am I not your Lord?” They said: “Yes, we bear witness.” Thus you cannot say on the Day of Resurrection that you were unaware of this.” (7:172)
We (our souls) were all part of the choice and thus not one single person can claim of the Day of Judgment that we did not know or were not aware. Our consciousnesses may not be aware of this ancient history of our species, but our subconscious and our soul do and they are the ones that drive us towards meeting our commitment to the Almighty.
The God Module
In an interesting study of epilepsy, scientists came across an unexpected find. A part of the brain was identified (later dubbed as the "God Module") which carried a built-in awareness of God and which became stimulated during acts of meditation and prayer. The findings, published in 1997, were to provide the answer to why all humans throughout history and irrespective of culture or geography have always had knowledge of a "Supreme Being" or the sense of searching for "God". The study also found that the activity of this module would cause a series of experiences ranging from hearing voices claimed to be from higher beings as well as hallucinations and paranormal activity.
"Findings seem to point to a region of the brain commonly referred to as the 'God Spot' or 'God Module', that when stimulated creates hallucinations that are interpreted as mystical or spiritual experiences. This 'spot' is stimulated during meditation and prayer and is affected by electromagnetic fields and epilepsy. The resulting hallucinations may be the cause of mystical, spiritual and paranormal experiences as they can give feelings such as a presence in the room or an out of body experience. In the case of epileptics, this may be the reason for many of them becoming obsessed with religion. For those who experience the stimulation it is explained related to their own personal beliefs; a visit from an angel or lost loved one, an extraterrestrial encounter, a higher plane of consciousness or a visit from God."
What is the Trust?
To understand the Trust, we must first explore what makes humans different from all other Earthly creation. The first answer to normally pop out is that humans are ‘smarter’ than most other creation and hence it is our mind which makes us different.
While this answer is true to a large extent, it can be pointed out that a species which is destroying the Earth with pollution, hunting the wildlife into extinction, using up the natural resources faster than they can regenerate, and killing each other over greed and power and land is not at all what an intelligent being would call ‘smart’.
Actually, what makes us unique is an element called ‘Spirit’ which only humankind was given access to by the Almighty.
“For your Lord said to the angels: ‘I am creating a human being from clay. So when I have evolved him, and breathed into him from My Spirit (Rouh), then you shall yield to him.” (38:71-72)
"And your Lord said to the angels: “I am creating a human being from a hardened clay. So when I perfect him, and blow of My Spirit (Rouh) in him, you shall yield to him." (15:28-29)
In modern times, the word Spirit (Rouh) has been mistakenly confused with and used to mean the same as the word Soul (Nafs). However, we can clearly see that the two elements are not one in the same and that the Soul and Spirit are two distinct items.
"And the horn is blown on the promised Day. And every soul (Nafs) is brought, being driven, and with a witness." (50:20-21)
"God seizes the souls (Anfus) at the time of their death; and for those that have not died, during their sleep. He then keeps those that have been overtaken by death, and He sends the others back until a predetermined time. In that are signs for a people who will think." (39:42)
The Soul/Nafs is found in every living creature (the life-force). It is that part that resides in a person makes them who they are and is taken by God when they pass away.
All Creatures/Creation = Tangible Entity (Body) + Life Force (Soul)
As for humankind, there is the unique and special element we have access to, the Spirit, which makes us different from all other creation.
“And they ask you concerning the Spirit. Say: ‘The Spirit is from the authority of my Lord; and the knowledge you were given was but very little.’” (17:85)
The Spirit is best defined as a medium which contains authority and knowledge granted directly from the Creator. It is not the Creator per se, but it is a direct extension of His authority and knowledge allowed to be accessed and used by humankind while we are here on Earth.
Spirit = the Trust
The offer that was given and accepted by our species was simply as follows: Humankind is to be given the opportunity to significantly evolve by having access to The Spirit, in return, God will upgrade those who have successfully managed to improve themselves to an eternal paradise and an eternal life, while those who misuse the gift and fail to improve will be destined to an eternal hell and eternal limbo (neither living nor dead).
The other select creatures as well as the earth, sky, and mountains found the offer of having access to the Spirit in order to evolve to an eternal paradise or eternal hell to be too high a risk, and thus chose to remain in their natural state of being or not being without any consequences.
The Objection Of Satan
“And We created you, then We shaped you, then We said to the angels: “Yield to Adam;” so they yielded except for Satan, he was not of those who yielded. He said: “What has prevented you from yielding when I have ordered you?” He said: “I am far better than him, You created me from fire and created him from clay!” (7:11-12)
“And We said to the angels: “Yield to Adam.” So they all yielded except for Satan, he was of the Jinn, so he disobeyed the order of his Lord. Will you take him and his progeny as allies besides Me, while they are your enemy? Miserable for the wicked is the substitute!” (18:50)
When access to the Spirit was granted to humankind, and when God gave His command that all His creation (including the angels) were to yield to the authority of the Spirit bestowed upon our species, Satan, who represented the energy beings known as “Jinn” objected to this action and objected to God’s choice in granting the Spirit and authority to man.
Satan was arrogant in his thinking that the element from which he was created (fire) was more superior to man’s lowly physical body, and hence he believed it was his race that should have been given the opportunity to have God’s gift and not the humans.
Depiction of Satan as an energy being
As a result of this disobedience and arrogance, Satan was destined to an eternal pain in Hell. However, before the judgment was carried out, Satan pleaded that his sentencing be delayed until the humans stand judgment for the development (or lack thereof) of their own souls.
“He said: “Descend from it, it is not for you to be arrogant here; depart, for you are disgraced.” He said: “Grant me respite until the Day they are resurrected?” He said: “You are granted.” He said: “For that which You have caused me to be misled, I will stalk for them on Your Straight Path. Then I will come to them from between their hands, and from behind them, and from their right, and from their left; You will find most of them are unappreciative.” He said: “Get out from this, you are despised and banished. As for those of them who follow you, I will fill Hell with you all!” (7:13-18)
Since Satan and his followers were not given the access to Spirit, there is no possibility for them to be rewarded as man was with an admission to a higher plain (Paradise). There is only two options that exist for Satan and his kind: to be placed in Hell at the time the Spirit is to be returned to God, or, to be rewarded by not going to Hell and to continue existing as they had before the incident of Satan’s objection to God’s command.
Also, one major restriction God placed on the Jinn (energy beings) was their ability to roam the universes unabated. The new laws placed physical boundaries which would keep the Jinn in the dark as to gaining knowledge of the future which they could then use to their own benefit/schemes.
“And we touched the heavens, but found it full of powerful guards and projectiles. And we used to sit in it in places of listening, but anyone who sits now finds a projectile seeking him.” (72:8-9)
As a mercy from God, once humankind was granted access to the Spirit, the first recipients (identified as Adam and his mate) were made to live in a higher plain (a paradise) where they could nourish their souls without having to worry about the physical requirements of food or water or heat or cold.
“So We said: “O Adam, this is an enemy to you and your mate. So do not let him take you out from the paradise, else you will have hardship. You will have in it that you will not go hungry nor need clothes. And you will have in it that you will not go thirsty nor suffer from heat.” (20:117-119)
However, upon being allowed into this higher plain, Adam and his mate were warned not to eat from a specific tree which would block their connection to the Spirit and cause them to no longer be able to remain in the earthly paradise.
“But the devil whispered to him, he said: “O Adam, shall I lead you to the tree of immortality and a kingdom which will not waste away?” So they both ate from it, and their bodies became apparent to them, and they began to place leaves on themselves from the paradise. Adam had disobeyed his Lord, and had gone astray.” (20:120-121)
Unfortunately, as we all by now know, Adam and his mate did eat from the tree and thus were disconnected from the Spirit and were made aware of their lowly physical bodies and needs.
Since Adam and his mate were no longer in constant connection with the Spirit, they had to leave the earthly paradise they were being served in and move down to the lower lands where they had to clothe, feed, and fend for themselves. The earthly paradise where Adam and his mate could have spent their entire lives in purification was now off limits due to the taint of the tree.
Depiction by early Renaissance artist Masaccio of Adam’s expulsion from the paradise
However, not all was lost. God in His continuing mercy forgave Adam for his mistake and taught Adam the method and words that would connect him back to the Spirit (though not the same permanent connection that Adam and his mate were able to enjoy before being tainted by the tree).
“Adam then received words from His Lord, so He forgave him; He is the Forgiver, the Merciful. We said: “Descend from it all of you, so when the guidance comes from Me, then whoever follows My guidance, they will have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.” (2:37-38)
Help From Above
God in His infinite mercy did not abandon the descendents of Adam and leave us to fumble for the answers which will guide us to the straight path, or leave us to be manipulated and influenced by Satan and his followers who harbor an intense hatred and envy of our race.
“’O you tribes of Jinn and humans, did not messengers come to you from amongst you and relate to you My revelations, and warn you of the meeting of this Day?’ They said: ‘Yes, we bear witness upon ourselves;’ and the worldly life deceived them, and they bore witness on themselves that they were rejecters.” (6:130)
God chose to interfere as and when He saw fit. God chose to support us by communicating the message of why we are here and what we need to do to move on to the next level through people that He has selected. Such people are most assuredly ones who were of a noble and purer nature and were thus able to reach to the Spirit and became recipients of messages and even Scriptures directly from the Lord of the Worlds.
Artist depiction of Moses with the commandments from God
“And We gave Moses the Scripture, and after him We sent the messengers. And We gave Jesus son of Mary the clear proofs, and We supported Him with the Holy Spirit. Is it that every time a messenger comes to you with what your souls do not desire, you become arrogant? A group of them you deny, and a group of them you kill!” (2:87)
The messengers that have been sent varied in strength based on their ability to connect with the Spirit. Some, like Jesus, were born purified and thus were able to access the very core of the Spirit (the Holy Spirit) and perform great miracles by God’s grace, while others were simply able to transit the warnings to their people in the hope that they would listen and save themselves.
Develop Your Soul
“O you soul which is peaceful. Return to your Lord happy and content. And enter in amongst My servants. And enter My Paradise.” (89:27-30)
We are here on Earth to develop and purify our souls to the point where we can be accepted by God to make the quantum leap to the higher plains of eternal bliss. No longer were we to be primal animals only seeking to satisfy the bodily functions of food and procreation.
Some of the methods that have been described in the Quran for humankind to achieve the development of the soul include, but are not limited to, the following:
1. See beyond the physical and the material
“And it is not your money or your children that will bring you closer to Us, but only those who believe and do good work, they will receive double the reward for their works, and they will reside in the high dwellings in peace.” (34:37)
What we do with our bodies and our money are irrelevant if they do not touch our soul in a positive way. This life is not about who obtains power or prestige or wealth, rather, it is about what we do with our lives to benefit and nourish our souls.
We can see how the Prophet Mohammed was reprimanded for making this exact mistake when he preferred to entertain the man who was rich over the man who had the physical disability of being blind in his sight (see 80:1-10)
2. Nourish your soul
“And the scales on that Day will be the truth. Whoever has heavy weights, then these are the successful ones. And whoever has light weights, then these are the ones who lost their souls for what they transgressed of Our revelations.” (7:8-9)
The scales on judgment day will seek out every person and measure how well or not they have developed and nourished their souls. The soul is nourished by humbling ourselves, standing for justice, avoiding sin, and continuously doing good works (see 11:23, 16:90, 29:7, 42:37)
3. Seek help through connecting to the Spirit
“And seek help through patience, and through the Salat/Connection. It is a difficult thing, but not so for the humble.” (2:45)
Our access to the Spirit is possibly the most powerful tool we have at our disposal to meet the challenge of developing our souls in preparation for judgment day. Granted that our species link to the Spirit was tainted by eating from the forbidden tree, however, God has taught us the words and the method to re-establish an open connection with the Spirit in what is known as “Salat”. Such is a gift not to be turned away.
May the Lord God accept our prayer…
“God does not burden a soul beyond its means. For it is what it earns, and against it is what it earns. ‘Our Lord, do not mind us if we forget or make mistakes; our Lord, do not place a burden upon us as You have placed upon those before us; our Lord, do not place upon us what we cannot bear; pardon us, and forgive us, and have mercy on us; You are our patron, so grant us victory over the disbelieving people.’” (2:286)
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By Layth Al-Shaiban (firstname.lastname@example.org)