I was once at a Purification of the Heart Retreat where our teacher asked us to write down reflections each day about what we took away from that day’s education and experience. He would then call on people to share their reflections. On one of the days, we all went on a hiking trip where we got to hike but also have time to reflect. When we came back, our teacher called upon one of the brothers to share his reflection. I will never forget this reflection. It was one of those reflections that I felt in my core as if someone took a pen and wrote the words on my heart. Until today, it still stays with me, for it was a reminder that motivated me to reflect deeper on the purpose in which we were created.
The brother shared that when he was out hiking, he took some time to sit down and write his reflection for the day. As he was about to write, he realized his pen was not working. He thought about throwing out the pen, for he went on to explain that the pen’s main purpose is to write, and if it no longer fulfills the purpose in which it was designed, it’s no longer of use. But as he was thinking about this and how he was going to throw this pen away, he reflected on the fact that despite the many days, months, and years we do not fulfill our purpose, our Creator does not discard of us.
After I heard this reflection, I couldn’t stop thinking about the verse in the Qur’an (51:56) that talks about our purpose: “I did not create jinn and mankind except to worship me.” Here, God tells us exactly what our purpose is: to worship Him. The word used for worship is “li yaʿbudūn” which is the verb form of ʿIbāda. We have really misunderstood what this word means and have oversimplified and minimized it to it being solely related to the outward acts of worship that we engage in. This word means so much more than that. Linguistically, the Arabic word ʿIbāda has many meanings. It is not just the actual acts of worship. It is to KNOW God, LOVE God, submit to Him, and devote one’s life to Him. It is knowing His words, His messengers, His book, His attributes. It is knowing His commands and striving to obey them. It is essentially to connect to God, seek Him and bear witness to Him (the practice of shahada) through everything we go through in our lives. The essence of ʿIbāda is the comprehensive experience of love and connection with the One who designed us, created us, and the one we will return to. God has made THIS our purpose!
And when we think about purpose, we have to think about the act of creating. The pen mentioned earlier was created with a purpose. Did the person creating the pen know the purpose before or after creating it? Do we know why we create something before or after we make it? Without a doubt, we always know the purpose of something before we create it. And we design what we are making to fulfill that purpose, which means we equip it with what it needs to accomplish its purpose. We create the pen to write, and we design its shape and equip it with the ink to do just that. In the verse above where God talks about our purpose, He uses the word CREATE. He could have said, “We did not put you on this earth, except to worship Me.” He did not say that though. He used the word create to bring to our attention that our purpose was already known before He fashioned us. He is making us aware of the fact that our purpose to know Him, long for Him, connect to Him. This was already programmed within our design, within our being. We cannot run away from something that was already implemented within us. Every time we stray away from this purpose, His path, His design, His commands, His love, His knowledge, we go against our very design. We struggle, because we are not aligned with our purpose. We place a burden on ourselves that we were not meant to bear. The pen was created to write. That is its purpose. If we try to use it as a hammer, it will be ruined.
Many times in our lives, we forget why we were created. We forget that within our design is a heart that was programmed to long for Him, connect to Him, to navigate its way back to the Source. We disregard God’s purpose for us to fulfill our own. We neglect our purpose of submitting to our Creator and choose to submit to other things created, things that will never fulfill that longing within our heart and will always end up being of harm. We end up going against our design, placing a burden on ourselves that He never meant for us to bear. We end up using the pen as a hammer. “And to your Lord, direct (your) longing” (Quran: “The Relief”)