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Islamic Theology:  Towards a meaningful life Chap 2


Chapter Author:  Sheikh Mansour Leghaei


The Argument

Is our universe an organized system or it is like some scribbles on a piece of paper? If it is an organized system, which it obviously is, it must follow a goal. Therefore, our universe must follow a goal and must have a meaning. The question however is what the meaning of it is?

The problem of the ‘meaning of life' is probably one of the best known of all philosophical problems. It is the one question to which unfortunately much of the existing literature presents no satisfactory general illumination. It is the one question that makes the man of our age not much different from the man of Stone Age. Despite the tremendous scientific discoveries and inventions that the man of our age has achieved, still he has no satisfactory response to the meaning of life. This has caused such an unsolved puzzle for man that some of the contemporary philosophers, after failing to find a satisfactory answer for it, tried to dismiss the question as being a cognitively meaningless pseudo-problem.

The problem of the puzzle of life is not the type of question that man can ignore, for the meaning and the value of his entire life depends on his response to this question.


Feeling Pain

Remember the Simile of the Cave presented by Plato? Imagine if you were in a dark cave for years and years, you would lose your sight. Being imprisoned in the cell of the material world has made many of us blind. And the catastrophe is that we don't believe or think we are blind. We see the shadow of the objects in the cave and assume they are real and there is nothing more than that. If you don't use your legs for quite a long period, they become disabled and that is the situation many people are living in. The remedy, therefore, is to make them feel the pain. Once they acknowledge the pain, diagnosis and treatment will follow.


Logotherapy is a new branch in Psychoanalysis , which was originated by Dr. Viktor Frankl born in 1905 in Vienna. He was imprisoned for several years during World War and came to the doctrine of Logotherapy, that: the most fundamental human motive is to find meaning in life.

Logotherapy is driven from the Greek term Logos which means ‘meaning'. He holds that many people are, nowadays, suffering from their meaningless life.

 Their life is in vain. All types of psychological disorders are the result of losing the meaning of life. Logotherapists believe all people are in need of a reason to live .

The Meaning of Life and Different Approaches

Different people who have come across the puzzle of life have attempted in solving the problem differently. For most people the meaning of life is limited to the fulfilment of their wishes, be it marriage, education, etc. In general, there are usually three different approaches to the question of the meaning of life.



1. Being Attracted to Face Values :

Perhaps the majority of people stand in this domain. Their sole desire is material success. Life has no meaning for them but to satisfy their personal desires as much as they can. Talking about transcendental values to them is ridiculous. The question of the meaning of life is nonsensical and a philosophical one and hence, it's not of their concern. These people are so trapped in the vicious circle of the material life that they would never have time to think beyond their worldly business. They are like a horse grinding the wheat in a mill whose eyes are closed. The holy Quran with reference to the last two categories states: "Surely We have created many of the jinn and mankind for Hell. They have hearts wherewith they understand not, and they have eyes wherewith they see not, and they have ears wherewith they hear not. They are like cattle, nay even more astray; those! They are the heedless ones." [7:179] Sadly, they will eventually wake up to themselves when their heads hit the bottom of their graves. Alas! It would be then too late.


2. A Crime Named Life

This is a pessimistic approach. The supporters of this idea ridicule the whole of life, both the material and spiritual aspects of it. The history of philosophy has unfortunately illustrated many examples for us, both in the West and the East. Ab,lala Ma'rry, a Syrian Philosopher, who died in 449 AH (1057 AC), is an example of this negative approach. He came across the puzzle of life and since he could not find any satisfactory answer, he denied the whole of life. He never married, believing that marriage is giving birth and bringing a non-existent to existence, and to him it was a crime. Eventually, he committed suicide and wrote in his will that the following verse should be written on his grave stone:

My father committed a crime and brought me to life, but I never repeated that crime.

Arthur Schopenhauer, a German Philosopher who died in 1860 is another example of the pessimistic view of existence. Nietzsche, another German Philosopher is the third example of this category.


3. Existence: A Ray of Grace

The last category belongs to those who more or less have found the meaning of life. The Almighty Allah states in the Quran:

" O you who believe! Answer to the call of All and His Messenger who give you life ." [8:24]

Leo Tolstoy, a Russian Philosopher and the famous author of War & Peace, died in 1910 and is an example of this category.

Naser Khosro, a well known Iranian Poet and Philosopher of the 5 th Century AH, is a Muslim example of the third category. He also, after enjoying his life as a Royal Poet, at the age of 42 came across the puzzle of life, until he left the then Imperial Court and went on a journey for 7 years searching for the true meaning of life.

One fundamental contribution of religion to mankind is that it gives him direction in his life. It makes him conscious of the life beyond this world of matter. It tells him why to live so that the puzzle of how to live is solved.

Man in Islam is so honoured [17:70] that he is created to be eventually the vicegerent of God on earth. [2:30]. His earthly life is like a farm from which he is expected to reap eternal bliss in Paradise. To achieve that I need to find out my place in this universe, the Creator and His expectation from me, and the path and the direction He has designed for my eternal prosperity near Him.

My Capital is Melting!

Many years ago, when I was learning the Arabic language, in order for me to improve my Arabic I used to spend some time on reading short Arabic fictions. One of the stories which impressed me was about a Bedouin Arab who was selling ice bars in hot weather. For some reasons, he didn't have enough customers and the bars of ice, which were his only capital, were melting. He was losing badly. To save his capital he began calling upon people: “O people! Be kind to he whose capital is melting.”

My lifetime is the capital that I am freely blessed with. This precious capital is melting and my breathing is like a two sided saw [inhale and exhale] that is willy-nilly cutting the tree of my life.

Notes :

1. How would you explain in 10 lines the meaning of life?

•  Separately, ask five cooperative people - members of your family, friends, their parents, this question: If the doctor tells you that you have only one month to live, what would you do?

A system is a group of interacting elements that are forming a complex whole, such as the nervous system or the solar system.

Some forms of Positivism hold this idea. For an outline of their response see: A.J.Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic.

Psychoanalysis is a system of Psychology originated by S. Freud in the 1890's. He believed that all human beings are born with instinctual drives that are constantly active, even though a person is usually not conscious of being driven.

For further study see: Man's Search for Meaning: An introduction to Logotheraphy, Viktor Frankl.

Such a doctrine in Philosophy is called ‘Hedonism' in which its principle is ‘nothing is good or bad for a person except what makes him experience pleasure or pain': ‘The Monist', an international journal of general philosophical inquiry. April 1993, Vol.76

A. Weisman has called suicide ‘the decision to end all indecisions': Psychology for You p. 58

The Quatrians of Ab,lala, also: Mo'jamul-Odabah 3:125



Author: Sheikh Mansour Leghaei


Other links:

Islamic Theology: Definition and History Chap 1

Marefat Nafs - Cleansing Khiyaal lesson 1: Audio lecture

Prophet Muhammad: A Divine Mercy for the Worlds: Lecture 6

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